Artists draw on Indigenous teachings, land-based learning to create water vessels at Manitoba workshop

A Winnipeg-based artist is getting her hands dirty this summer for a 10-day workshop in Grand Rapids, Man., that focuses on harvesting clay by hand to create traditional Indigenous water vessels.

Oji-Cree visual artist KC Adams is leading the workshop, titled Water Knowledge, where she guides a group of women-identifying and non-binary artists deep into the land on Lake Winnipeg’s northeastern shore, teaching them the traditional practice.

The workshop, which started Monday and is running through to Aug. 19, is a part of the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art’s summer institute, and is about participants listening to the land and using their hands, Adams says.

“My favourite thing I’ve learned so far is that every time I go into the lake, the water in my body recognizes that water from the lake. That water cycled through me,” she told CBC’s Up to Speed host Faith Fundal in an interview Friday.

“It becomes a real meditation, healing and spiritual experience.”

During the first week of the workshop, participants also learn about water from elders, as well as through texts, walks, and land-based learning.

Adams says the workshop honours the Anishinaabe teaching that recognizes water as life and women as water-carriers. The approach allows participants to understand their connection to the land and the water on a much deeper level, Adams said, making a comparison with gardening.

“You can’t really understand the importance of food and how precious and lovely it is until you grow your own,” but once you do, “[you] really understand that relationship that we have with the land and the waters. That’s what this experience is really about,” she said.

“We’re a part of the spider web — we’re not the spider web — and everything around us is a part of it.”

Participants prepare clay by mixing lake water into the clay powder, combining the two with their feet. (Megan Lindell)

Rachel Bach, a traditional midwife and artist, is one of the people attending the workshop. She says she was inspired to participate after she sat in during a smaller workshop held by Adams, where she was given clay to house her child’s placenta before she buried it.

Bach says the workshop has been “incredible,” and she’s happy to continue her journey with clay and water on the land with Adams.

“I feel like working with the clay before was really meaningful, and to be here in this space on the land and have my hands on this earth has just elevated that experience and brought a deeper meaning.”

Bach says the teachings gained at the workshop will support her work as a midwife and an artist, and the land-based component breathes life into the water teachings in a way that needs to be experienced to be understood.

“I’m going to be reflecting on this experience far beyond these couple weeks,” said Bach.

A group of a dozen people -- eight standing and four kneeling in front -- pose in a wooded area, with small buildings, a picnic table and a firepit in the background.
KC Adams and Water Knowledge participants, pictured above, are spending two weeks in Grand Rapids, Man., to learn how to create traditional water vessels. (Submitted by KC Adams)

In the workshop’s second week, participants will be encouraged to produce individual work based on their learning from the first week.

The workshop is a chance to step away from Western education practices, says Adams, and the experience is about teaching participants their interconnectedness with the land and their responsibility to protect all their relations.

“It’s looking at a worldview in a different way. Instead of linear, it’s circular,” she said.

“You just feel really protected and embraced here.”

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