The “Reborn Under The Solstice Moon” art auction fundraiser for Thunderbird House took place on Dec. 21, 2016. (Although often just called Thunderbird House, in Ojibwa its name is Pinaysiwiigamic which stands for Circle of Life Thunderbird House, the name given by an Elder).
The longest night of the year heralds the eventual arrival of spring and signifies things will get better. Circle of Life Thunderbird House urgently needs to raise money to repair the roof so it was a fitting evening to hold the event. As well, in Indigenous culture, it is a day to celebrate in ceremony and with feasts.
The fundraiser and auction was a happy occasion. The interior of the building looked beautiful with its gleaming floors, exposed beams and soaring ceiling. Instead of discussing problems, it was a night to celebrate the building and its meaning to the Indigenous community in Winnipeg.
Making sure everyone is fed is central to Indigenous culture so meals were first taken outside and given to anyone hungry in the area. Main and Higgins is a transitional corner where people pass through, often those less fortunate, and the “Thunderhearts” volunteering during the event gave away approximately 150 meals.
The fundraiser commenced with prayers and offerings of tobacco by Oji-Cree Elder Frank Walker. He offered a prayer of gratitude for the food and also prayers for Ko’ona Cochrane and her family.
A committed “Thunderheart”, Cochrane has been volunteering there for ten years. She spent the last two months putting the benefit together to sound the alarm about the problems Thunderbird House is facing.
“It’s a place of salvation,” said Cochrane. “It’s somewhere we can come to feed our spirit, where we can feel safe, loved and cared for.”
Cochrane donated more than eighteen appraised prints by Daphne Odjig to the art auction.
Odjig, who died last year, was a founding member of the Professional Native Indian Artists Inc. collective, dubbed the “Indian Group of Seven” and had received both the Order of Canada and the Governor General’s award for her work.
Here are three of Odjig’s works that were up for auction at the fundraiser:
Odjig had stayed with Ko’ona’s parents while painting a mural called, “The Great Flood”, on Peguis School in Hodgson, MB. in 1971; thus, the connection between the sought after prints and Ko’ona. As for the rest of the story, you’ll have to ask Ko’ona.
There were also pastel drawings by L Milne, two stone carvings by Randy Ducharme, and works by other artists in the auction.
Aaron Paquette’s beautiful painting was the highlight of the auction. The evening was named after it and it was under wraps until the other artworks had been auctioned.
“Reborn Under The Solstice Moon” is a strikingly beautiful painting by one of Canada’s premier First Nations artists. There is a reserve bid of $5000 on it and it will remain available in an online auction until summer solstice on June 21, 2017.
Feast Café Bistro prepared much of the food. It was traditional Indigenous fare of slow roasted Manitoba bison with squash added to the mashed potatoes and bannock croutons on the salad. They donated much of the food and corporate donors also helped cover the food costs.
During dinner, Jason Tuesday sang and played his guitar for us accompanied by Niiganii on the flute.
All the speakers and contributors to the event had their own stories of what Thunderbird House meant to them. Some were especially poignant.
Olena has been in recovery for four months. She’d never made anything before but created a beautiful and joyously vibrant dream catcher to express her gratitude to Thunderbird House.
“This is like my church,” she said. “I come here every Sunday. It’s where I connect with my higher power.”
What stood out for me was the dedication people have to the Circle of Life Thunderbird House. There are so many “Thunderhearts”, as they’re called, who put in countless volunteer hours to keep the building running. Many of them contributed to make this event a huge success. Thunderbird House is special to them for many reasons.
Emcee and Co-chair of the board, Kevin Koroscol, stressed, “It’s a place for people to connect within the community. Over 100 people a day visit Thunderbird House, we want to welcome everyone who visits and all who want to learn more about our culture,” he added.
Rylee Sandberg is only seven and is proud of her culture. She wowed us with her natural grace while performing the Hoop Dance after dinner.
In February 2016, she placed third out of 31 dancers in the age 6-12 category at the World Hoop Dance Championship in Phoenix. Amazing considering she was the youngest dancer in the competition.
When you take the bus past the low round structure with no signage in front, you don’t realize what a hive of activity it is. Counseling, teachings and ceremonies are going on inside and community groups have office space.
Out back there is the sweat lodge where both women only and co-ed sweats take place a few times a week. These are sacred ceremonies that can only be led by Elders. Tobacco was offered to the sacred fire outside the sweat lodge during the fundraiser.
The copper roof of the Thunderbird House has faded to a dull grey, the first step in the natural oxidation process that will see it turn a lovely green verdigris shade eventually. Its iconic shape is of a Thunderbird with outstretched wings as if sheltering the building underneath.
With no funding, the leaky roof situation is becoming more dire. The roof needs to be patched and checked so that these problems don’t reoccur in the future.
When Joseph Boyden donated half of his speakers fee from One: the Mayor’s National Summit on Racial Inclusion to Thunderbird House towards fixing the roof, his public act of generosity brought the leaky roof and the underlying financial problems at Thunderbird House to people’s attention.
Since that summit, held here in Winnipeg at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights Sept. 17-18, 2016, the future of Thunderbird House has been on the minds of community members, inspiring many across the city to donate funds that will help pay for the necessary renovations.
Just a few days ago, Onamen Collective gave Thunderbird House a cheque for $10,000, representing half of the proceeds from an online auction they’d held to raise money to build a year-round culture, language and arts camp for youth and Elders.
Many people think Thunderbird House is the ideal place to help heal the rifts of racism in this city.
While it was being built, medicine bags containing sage, tobacco, sweetgrass and cedar were put into any holes drilled in the earth and forgiveness was asked.
It was constructed with four entrances representing the four races of humankind. Peaceful intention and a strong sense of spirituality abounds at Thunderbird House.
It’s also where Michael Champagne Redhead, 2016 Canadian Red Cross young humanitarian of the year, founded Aboriginal Youth Opportunities in 2010 (and coined the term “Thunderhearts”). Like everyone else I spoke with, Champagne believes in the importance of Thunderbird House in our city.
If you want to help Thunderbird House, check out their new website that just launched today. It has updated information. You can also find their fundraising page on GoFundMe.com.
You can view Aaron Paquette’s painting, “Reborn Under The Solstice Moon” at Thunderbird House and there will be details posted on the new website about where to bid on it.
The building is still available for rent. Any rentals would be a blessing to Circle of Life Thunderbird House as they rely on support from the community as their sole source of funds.
Going forward, they have plans to put themselves on a sound financial footing but until then they need our help.