Editor’s Note: This article originally ran on Aug. 2, 2013.
Editor’s Note: This article originally ran on Aug. 2, 2013. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are tapping into our archives more, particularly for arts and sports. This special section will return to its regular schedule when the crisis concludes.
Tanya Harnett has been around water all her life.
Having grown up in Stony Plain, where she remembers the year the first generator plant went in, and when the water started to get algae, now the First Nations artist is bringing her work home.
The Scarred/Sacred Water series – an exhibit of photographs depicting waters from the five Albertan reserves – is currently being shown at Stony Plain’s Multicultural Heritage Centre as part of the TREX travelling exhibition program.
“Water is the most important issue right now because it’s the thing that’s being used up the most. It’s being used by industry. And it’s being contaminated by industry,” Harnett said.
Among the stirring, disturbing photographs of waters contaminated by the Alberta industry, Harnett included a particularly compelling photo from the Paul First Nation land, a Wabamun clean-up site from 2005’s 700,000-litre oil spill.
Dark waters crest into a red wave, and behind the lake, the power plant stands out clearly against a cloudy sky.
“I want (viewers) to know that there are problems and that it’s not just one group. Not all First Nations people really talk to each other about their environmental issues, because they’re so busy cleaning up right now,” she said.
The give First Nations who contributed to Harnett’s series include the Paul First Nation, the Alexis First Nation, Cold Lake First Nation and the Lubicon Lake First Nation.
In each place, Harnett asked them to locate and highlight a water body affected by environmental issues, by pouring red food colouring into the water.
A Carry-the-Kettle band member from Saskatchewan, Harnett’s artist statement highlights her engagement with the five First Nations and calls the Scarred/Sacred Water exhibit a “series of artwork that belongs to everyone.”
“Because we live in cities, we don’t get to see what’s happening on the land. First Nations people do, so they’re kind of at the ground level,” she said.
“They are witnesses, in a way that’s pretty specific.”
Her series calls on Albertans to become more informed about the environmental issues the province faces and asks them to listen to the First Nations people about their perspective.
Out of the five reservations contributing to her series, she says four are dealing with water issues and oil contamination issues right now.
“Three of them are dealing with spills that just happened in the last year. But people don’t know that,” she said.
“In general, we don’t know what’s going on – only, these people are telling us what’s going on on their reserve, and they’ve been saying it for a while/”
But the series isn’t an attempt to make a statement as much as it is an effort to facilitate a place for engagement, discussion and awareness where Albertans from outside the reservations can understand what is actually going on.
“I find (my work) really emotional because I’m scared that we aren’t going to have water. I think about the kids and I think about what they’re going to have … and future generations from that, it’s scary. It’s just scary,” Harnett said.
“I hope that young children and people in communities will see that work and say, “What the heck is that? There’s a problem’.”
The exhibit will be showcased in schools and libraries throughout Alberta, with program guides available for students and visitors/
It will be at the Multicultural Heritage Centre until Aug. 28, 2013.
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