Caring for Our Relations

Even as Morrisseau brought other storylines into his work, they were always infused with core Anishinaabe ways of knowing, such as centering the power of relations. Morrisseau taught the importance of caring for our relations, which also meant caring for our planet.

This drawing shows a child’s face connected to a fish below and a bird above. Wavy energy lines connect all three beings to Aki and Nebi (land and water) to visually express the world's layers.

Norval Morrisseau, Untitled, c. 1978.

Norval Morrisseau, Flowers Yellow Birds, 1991.

Painted later in his life, this colourful work celebrates kinship ties between birds and flowers.

Norval Morrisseau, Untitled (Children Cherry Tree Yellow), c. 1994.

In a work that celebrates the beauty of all living things, Morrisseau joins together children, flowers, and birds with a bountiful cherry tree, laden with red fruit.

Morrisseau painted this work while living in a house at Semiahmoo First Nation overlooking the Pacific Ocean during the 1990s. A big cherry tree stood in his front yard and inspired him to paint this two-panel canvas.

PAST/PRESENT/FUTURE - Caring for Our Relations

Time Magazine commissioned Morrisseau to paint a work related to Indigenous land claims for the cover of their July 22, 1975 publication about ongoing clashes over resources and opposition by Eeyou (James Bay Cree) and Inuit in Northern Quebec to the James Bay Hydroelectric Project, that was initiated by Hydro-Quebec and the government of Quebec in 1971. Although the painting was bumped from the cover for another news story, Morrisseau’s painting demonstrates kinship ties to Aki and Nebi. This work also demonstrates the importance of thinking about land, water, and all living beings over generations.

On July 18, 1975, Morrisseau was interviewed by Bob Checkwitch, the owner of the Great Grassland Graphics, which produced Morrisseau’s prints in the 1970s and 1980s. Checkwitch asked Morrisseau to explain his reasons for making this politically charged work:

Norval Morrisseau, The Land (Land Rights), 1982.

Morrisseau explains:

I realized it was a personal contribution I could make to represent all Indian people. I’m not a militant person as you know; I believe in peaceful coexistence but I also respect the feelings of other Indian people who feel they must do things their way. 

This quote by Norval Morrisseau is read by Logan Fiddler, Great-grandson of Norval Morrisseau, 2023.

Morrisseau explains how he organized the painting:

It’s divided into two parts, the world of the white man and a construction/miner whiteman. The Indian figure is the older generation of today and his ancestors are behind him looking back to the treaties they made with the white man in the past. The Indian is speaking but not to the white man. He is speaking about the old ways. He [the baby] represents the younger generation, the militant who speaks today about what he wants, and his words cross the line between white and Indian. The animals are protesting the change in their environment, they are an important part of the land, water, and Indian’s life. The center part of the painting is where I illustrate the land and its ownership.

Unpublished Checkwitch/Morrisseau conversation, 18 July 1975
​​​​​​​This quote by Norval Morrisseau is read by Logan Fiddler, Great-grandson of Norval Morrisseau, 2023. 

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