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Pain of being is derived from a photograph of my mother taken on the day of her First Communion ceremony.

When I began this painting my only intention was to depict the figure somewhat realistically. Part of my creative process is to intentionally let go of as much mind awareness as possible so that I can enter into a subconscious space. Painting in candlelight allows me to enter into this space. By painting subconsciously, I believe that I am allowing my ancestors to come through and assist me in the development of a project. When I felt this painting was nearing its competition I turned the lights back on in the studio and was shocked to see what I had done to my mother. She isn’t depicted as a young healthy child, instead, she looks more like a skeleton. The stairway behind her does not lead to a welcoming domestic space, and in fact to me it feels as if it were a doorway to hell and overall the painting seems as if it is about to spontaneously combust. It is so arid/dry, there is a lack of oxygen /life in this image and I wondered why this was so?

I studied the painting and interpreted its unintentional angst as my ancestor’s reaction to the depiction of such iconic, Catholic imagery. Though my mother Merle Monkman, never attended to a residential school, she like her mother were both educated in a convent. My grandmother Catherine Boucher was born in a Métis settlement in St. Louis Saskatchewan. She was educated by the Grey Nuns. The Grey Nuns were notoriously harsh in their “rearing” and I believe my grandmother was subject to their indoctrination, as she denied sharing with us any of her cultural knowledge and languages. My grandmother spoke Cree, Dene Soto, Michif, French and English fluently. Yet she only chose to speak/share, the colonial languages with us.

The ceremony of communion is considered to be one of most important occasions in a Catholic person’s life. The church requires its members to receive the sacrament of penance or reconciliation (confessing their sins) before taking communion. When writing an article on Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation commission, I researched the word reconciliation and found that under a Christian context, reconciliation means to both confess your sins and to also show a physical act of penance in order to emphasize your sorrow for sinning.

I feel that little has actually been done in terms of Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. There seems to be no justice or penance being offered. The impunity of the offender and the handing-over of monetary compensation is not an act of justice. I feel that if Canada’s truth was an attempt to destroy/deny the Indian, (physically, mentally, spiritually) and to eradicate our land, resources and sovereignty, then true reconciliation (under a Christian context) would mean, making a committed effort to put “it” back physically. This would mean recognition of sovereignty and treaties and the assertion of an accurate Indigenous context in all Canadian curricula, media, law and policy. By enacting this type of reconciliation, I believe we could rid ourselves of the apathetic behaviours of the Canadian majority who continually mythologize the histories, forcing our peoples into crisis.

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About The Author

Tannis Nielsen

Tannis Nielsen is a Metis of Cree, Sohto and Danish descent. As a practicing professional Indigenous artist and academic, Tannis has focused her research interests upon the examinations of an anti-colonial, Fourth World / Indigenous paradigm, as well as the Western / Euro-centric paradigm, Tannis locates herself within the praxis of a critical method of instruction that places emphasis towards the ideas of political, cultural, spiritual, social and environmental justice. As an artist Tannis has exhibited her works at such galleries as the Glenbow Museum in Calgary and has co-curated exhibitions such as the Enacting Emancipation show at A-Space Gallery, with Vicky Moufawad Paul. Tannis has also written a number of articles on arts and culture, some of which include "Re-materializing the Matriarchy" and "The Conundrum of Critical pedagogy in Community Arts Education" for Spirit Magazine.

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