Christi Belcourt, the Métis artist who created the stirring moccasin tribute to missing and murdered indigenous women, will receive the 2014 Ontario Arts Council Aboriginal Arts Award.
It is one of the highest artistic honors offered by the country, and certainly by the province. Belcourt, based in Espanola, Ontario, has long been known for involving the community at large in her works. Her seminal work to date, “Walking With Our Sisters,” pays tribute to indigenous women who’ve gone missing or been murdered in Canada with nearly 2,000 beaded moccasin tops, or vamps, created by 1,372 artists who came forth after Belcourt initially put out a call on social media, calling for 600—the number of aboriginal women known to be missing at that time.
“Christi’s deep respect for the world around us is exemplified by the synergies between her art and her community work,” said Peter Caldwell, Director & CEO of the Ontario Arts Council, in a statement announcing the award. “We are proud that this year’s Aboriginal Arts Award celebrates her accomplishments.”
Since the exhibit opened late last year, even newer statistics have emerged. Belcourt’s work resonates especially strongly in light of recent revelations by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that there are
“Now is an important time to honor Christi, her leadership and the gravitas of her work,” noted the jury, in the statement. “Her art and activism cannot be separated. She is an inspiring and vital voice in the community—a humble spirit and a force of nature.”
The Ontario Arts Council prize winner receives $10,000 and then in turn selects a winner in the $2,500 emerging-artist category. Belcourt has chosen visual artist and dancer Jaime Koebel as this year’s Emerging Aboriginal artist, the Ontario Arts Council said. Koebel, an Otipemisiwak (Métis) and Nehiyaw (Cree) artist and Indigenous arts animator, is originally from Lac La Biche, Alberta, and lives in Ottawa. In addition to furthering knowledge of social, political and cultural issues from an indigenous perspective, Koebel leads workshops, classes and demonstrations, and performs with her three children as Jaime & the Jiglets, a Métis dance group that uses stories and audience interaction to entertain and teach, the statement said. Her media include Métis beadwork, drawings, ink on drums, and fish scale art.
Belcourt will receive her honors at the opening of the Art Gallery of Ontario’s exhibit Before and after the Horizon: Anishinaabe Artists of the Great Lakes on July 30, the council said. A new work of Belcourt’s will also be unveiled, commissioned by the gallery.
Below, an interview with Belcourt from Muskrat Magazine earlier this year.