December 17th, 2017

Volunteers join forces to help restore Blackfoot unity symbol

By Martin, Tijana on June 21, 2017.

More than 50 volunteers gathered near Fort Whoop-Up on Tuesday to help Sarah Russell rebuild her art installation for ÒLandMarks2017Ó after it was vandalized recently. Herald photo by Tijana Martin @TMartinHerald

Tijana Martin

Lethbridge Herald

Community members gathered to show just how powerful unity can be after vandals rearranged a Blackfoot symbol created for unity, into a crude image.

On Tuesday, volunteers helped Sarah Russell, a local artist from the University of Lethbridge, reconstruct her art installation for “LandMarks 2017,” a national art project commemorating Canada’s 150th anniversary. The art project was created out of more than 150 rocks that were painted white and arranged in the coulees near Fort Whoop-Up.

The installation can be seen from west Lethbridge. On May 23, when Russell made her way east down Whoop-Up Drive, she noticed something was different.

“My heart sank and I thought maybe the land just dropped,” said Russell. “Once I got closer and drove by, I seen what it was.”

The installation took months of preparation and was inspired by the Blackfoot Confederacy.

“I wanted it to represent human beings because we forget that we are human beings, and we put labels on ourselves and we expect ourselves to live up to those labels,” she said.

But as humans, she added, we move through emotions and are faced with physical, spiritual and emotional challenges.

“I wanted to make my project emotionally, physically, mentally challenging for these reasons.”

When she first installed the project, she carried most of the rocks up on her own.

“It’s not easy bringing up rocks, it was easy to rearrange it, but it wasn’t easy to bring those rocks up,” she said.

However, her spirits were lifted just knowing the community was behind her.

“That’s what helped me get up this morning, just people going out of their way to use their time and energy to be here really means a lot – it’s a gift, actually,” she said.

Volunteers began to gather around 10 a.m., initially filling bags of rocks to carry up the coulees, but eventually more than 50 volunteers were present, so they formed a single line and passed rocks up one-by-one.

As Russell made her way up the coulee, she shook hands and thanked each volunteer individually. In less than 45 minutes, volunteers cheered as the last rock made its way up the line.

“For everybody to be here, it really means a lot. I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t know if I could put it into words,” said Russell. “But for the elders, they always say the greatest gift anybody could give you, it’s not money, it’s their time and energy and that’s what the community brought to me.”

Aaron Trozzo, who works at an organization that is focused on cultural development, was there in support.

“Many of the people around here do the same and work very, very, hard as either artists or purveyors of the art and advocate to create a city that is really warm, accepting, vibrant culturally,” said Trozzo. “When symbols of empathy and love are destroyed, I think it’s a really unfortunate.”

His hope is that Tuesday’s event helps demonstrate that the community will not tolerate these acts of vandalism.

“There’s a way bigger community that are in support of these thing,” he added.

Ultimately, when Russell began the project, she was inspired to create something positive.

When she asked the creator of the symbol for permission to use it in her installation, he said “the symbol is my gift to you Sarah and the gift to the Blackfoot people. You use it however you want,” said Russell. “He was really hoping something positive would come out this and it did.”

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