M’CHIGEENG – When the 50th anniversary celebrations at Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) culminate in the conclusion of the major renovation project at the school, students, staff and community members alike will be treated to a striking new addition—a 16-foot steel flame to represent the Anishinaabe Seven Fires Prophecy made by M’Chigeeng sculptor OneKWE and graffiti and sculptural artist Kwest.
“It’s good to show that when you’re in high school, you never know what you’re going to do a couple of years down the road. To have this opportunity to show that I’m a Mustang and now a collaborator, it will be an inspiring piece for those who might want to go into the trades,” said M’Chigeeng’s Kathryn Corbiere, who has formed the artisanal metalwork brand OneKWE.
Ms. Corbiere first met Kwest four years ago in Kagawong as part of the 4elements Living Arts Elemental Festival, when theirs were among several sculptures installed on the Billings Connection Trail. They formed a friendship and later collaborated in Sudbury’s Up Here Festival last summer. This is the second project they have worked on together.
The artists began to host discussions of what they wanted the sculpture to entail in collaboration with elder Josh Eshkawkogan, the student council at MSS and the school’s Three Fires Confederacy.
“We knew we wanted to do some sort of flame; it’s a powerful piece when you walk in the school. We’ve been working with them to get feedback, to see if they felt they could relate to the sculpture and what their feelings were toward the concept. They all seemed pretty on board with it,” said Ms. Corbiere.
Near the main (east) entrance of MSS, seven cedar posts are in place with a metal frame at their top to form a canopy. The massive flame will rise in the centre.
“It is a sculpture that depicts the new generation. We are in the Eighth Fire of the Seven Prophecies. Only when the races of mankind can work together can peace be restored to the Earth,” said Mr. Eshkawkogan.
The concept and design phases are now complete and they have technical drawings from engineers to help guide the construction. However, the fabrication process has yet to begin because it will be done at Ms. Corbiere’s on-Island workshop and Kwest resides in Toronto, especially far away given the province-wide urges to stay at one’s home.
“We hope we can get it done soon, whenever (Kwest) has time to come up for a couple of weeks, hopefully in July,” said Ms. Corbiere.
She added that the piece will be striking when it finally goes up and she hopes it helps to engage the whole Island community.
“Public art is really starting to come up, with the trail in Kagawong and the Elemental Festival and all over the Island. To have a piece here at the high school that targets young adults really means a lot,” said Ms. Corbiere.
“The students, staff and Rainbow District School Board, along with the consultants, have united to create beauty and integrate culture into a place of learning for both Natives and non-Natives,” added Mr. Eshkawkogan.
MSS principal Jamie Mohamed agreed that the sculpture would be significant for the school community and the Islanders who make use of the school grounds in various ways.
“The whole idea is to make people think and to provide an inclusive, open culture to the school, one that is representative of the Island population and the population of the student body as well,” said Mr. Mohamed. “It’s a fantastic win for the whole Island, a fantastic opportunity to have these renovations for all the Island to experience.”
He added that more artwork and culturally inclusive components would be added to the renovation project in the coming months and invited this newspaper to tour the space in late summer to see the progress that has been made.