Fostering Indigenous Perspectives: OVC Enhances Veterinary Education with Indigenous Art

May 30, 2024

OVC is committed to enhancing the presence of Indigenous cultures and perspectives within the physical spaces of the college. In 2022, the OVC Dean’s Office acquired several Indigenous works of art for an Enhanced Clinical Learning classroom space (ECLA 1720). Working with the Bay of Spirits Gallery in Toronto, OVC’s Jeff Wichtel, Dean and Melissa Perreault, Associate Professor, Neuroscience selected five pieces by Indigenous artists from across Ontario. Three reflect the renowned Woodlands style typical of artists living in the Great Lakes regions spanning northern Ontario and southwestern Manitoba. The Woodlands school often reflect people, plants and animals. Naturally, OVC selected artworks with animal themes and imagery intended to inspire reflection and conversation about the various ways of understanding and knowing animals. OVC looks to encourage diverse perspectives on animal lives and how we relate to them. These artworks can help to foster new conversations and perspectives in veterinary education. 

Anishinaabe Miinwa Mukwa Dodem (Anishinaabe and the Bear Clan)

Mark Seabrook 

Once upon a time, in the heart of the Anishinaabe community, there lived a community service person known for their dedication and wisdom. One day, adorned with ceremonial face paint, they approached the sacred Bear Clan not for protection, but for the healing power of medicine.

The snake coiled around the forearm of the bear served as a potent symbol, reminding all present that just as the snake sheds its skin, so too can we shed our past selves and embrace new beginnings. As the moon waned, casting its gentle glow upon the land, it whispered a message of depletion and the urgent need for replenishment. The community service person had given their all and now sought guidance and renewal.

Summoning the wisdom of the four ravens, messengers of the ancient medicine wheel, the community service person sought to align themselves with the natural cycles of life. And so, they humbly beseeched the Bear Clan for assistance, knowing that their arrival under the full moon heralded a time of abundance and spiritual potency.

As the Bear Clan answered the call, they brought forth not only physical medicine but also the timeless teachings of their ancestors. With each breath, the snake imparted sacred knowledge in the rhythm of the old traditional teachings: two lines, three lines, four lines, and finally, seven lines, weaving a tapestry of wisdom and guidance for the weary soul.

United under the canopy of stars, the Bear Clan and the community service person embraced the transformative power of ancient medicine, reaffirming their connection to the land, the spirits, and each other. As dawn broke, illuminating the horizon with a soft golden hue, they embarked on a journey of healing and renewal, guided by the timeless wisdom of their ancestors and the enduring spirit of their community. 

The Journey

Josh Kakegamic 

Within the vast wilderness of Cree territory, there were two travellers who journeyed along the winding rivers in their sturdy canoes. One was a fierce warrior, small in stature but mighty in spirit, while the other was a gentle giant, strong and protective, carrying a child upon his broad back.

As they paddled through the tranquil waters, the warrior and the giant beheld a strange sight: a mystical ball-like figure, shimmering with iridescent hues, floating upon the surface of the river. Intrigued by its otherworldly presence, they decided to investigate, guiding their canoes to the riverbank.  

Stepping onto the shore, the warrior and the giant approached the mysterious sphere, each reaching out to touch it with reverence. As their fingers made contact, they felt a surge of energy course through them, connecting them to the ancient magic of the land.

Behind each traveller, a circle of light emerged, glowing softly and pulsating with the rhythm of the earth. These circles, manifestations of their connection to the spirit world, served as a conduit for their journey, guiding them along the path of destiny.

With the child nestled safely upon his back, the giant gazed upon the warrior with respect, recognizing the strength and wisdom within their small frame. The warrior, in turn, looked up to the giant with admiration, acknowledging the gentle heart and steadfast resolve that dwelled within his towering companion.

United by their shared quest and bound by the mystical forces that surrounded them, the warrior and the giant continued their journey, each carrying the light of hope within their hearts. For they knew that together, they were destined to overcome any challenge that lay ahead, forging a legend that would endure for generations to come.

With the Help of Friends

John Laford 

In the heart of the Anishinaabe lands, there lived a great chief known for his wisdom and connection to the spirits. One day, as he sat by the sacred lake, deep in meditation, a powerful vision descended upon him.  

In the vision, the chief felt a transformation overtaking him. His lower body began to shift, melding seamlessly with the water, as his midsection transformed into the sleek form of a fish. Yet, his upper body remained human, a testament to his earthly roots.  

As he beheld this remarkable change, the chief felt the presence of his spirit helpers, the bear and the fish. Their energy enveloped him, guiding him through this mystical metamorphosis. The bear, an embodiment of strength and courage, lent him its resilience, while the fish, a symbol of adaptability and intuition, granted him its wisdom.  

Above him, a circle of the sun appeared, its radiant glow illuminating the scene. Within its golden embrace, the chief felt a surge of divine energy, infusing him with clarity and purpose. It was a sign from the Creator, a blessing upon his transformation.  

From that day forth, the chief embraced his dual nature, walking the earth as a guardian of both land and water. With the bear and fish as his constant companions and the sun as his guiding light, he led his people with wisdom and compassion, embodying the harmonious balance of the Anishinaabe way of life. And thus, his legend endured, a testament to the sacred bond between humans, animals, and the spirit world. 

Teaching the Young

Goyce Kakegamic 

In the Cree culture, there is a tale of two siblings, a brother, and a sister, who embark on a journey to seek wisdom and guidance from the spirits of their ancestors. Inside their humble tent, they meditate and commune with nature, hoping to receive visions and insights that will guide them on their path.  

The brother, depicted standing in the scene, represents strength and determination. He stands tall, his gaze fixed on his sister, as he embodies the protector and provider for their family. The birds adorning him symbolize his connection to the spirit world, as birds are often seen as messengers between the earthly realm and the heavens. 

The sister, seated gracefully with a bird in her hands, embodies wisdom and intuition. She cradles the bird gently, representing her nurturing and compassionate nature. The fish on her back symbolizes abundance and sustenance, reflecting her role as the provider of nourishment for her family.  

As they meditate together, the two siblings experience visions of the past, present, and future. The birds flying between them represent the guidance and messages they receive from the spirits. Each bird carries with it a message of hope, resilience and harmony, urging the siblings to remain steadfast in their journey.  

In the background, the radiant sun symbolizes enlightenment and illumination, signifying the clarity and wisdom that the siblings seek to attain. Its warm glow bathes the interior of the tent, infusing the scene with a sense of peace and serenity.  

Overall, this scene encapsulates the essence of a Cree story, celebrating the interconnectedness of humans with nature and the spiritual world, and the quest for knowledge and understanding that is central to Cree culture. 

Bird Call

Artist: Jackson Beardy 

There exists a tale of profound unity and transformation, encapsulated by the union of two beings bound by destiny.

At the heart of this legend stand two figures, facing opposite directions yet connected at their core. The front figure, a woman of ethereal beauty and grace, symbolizes the essence of humanity. Her visage is adorned with hair that cascades around her head, intertwining with the air as if it were a part of the very wind itself. Within her locks are woven two birds, their delicate forms serving as tokens of her connection to the spirit world.

Behind her stands the figure of a human in the midst of transformation, gradually morphing into the shape of a bird. Here, the line between human and avian blurs, as feathers begin to sprout from the figure's form, and a beak emerges from where once a nose stood. This transformation signifies the journey of the soul, as it transcends earthly limitations and takes flight into the boundless expanse of the sky.

Together, these two figures represent the duality of existence—the earthly and the divine, the physical and the spiritual—united in a timeless dance of balance and harmony. They embody the interconnectedness of all living things, reminding the Oji-Cree people of the sacred bond that binds humanity to the natural world.

In the hearts of the Oji-Cree, this legend serves as a guiding light, illuminating the path towards understanding and unity, and reminding them of the eternal truths that lie at the heart of their existence. 

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