The Sweetgrass Bear

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Today, a new sculpture was unveiled in the University of Alberta’s quad on North Campus. The Sweetgrass Bear, by Stewart Steinhauer, is part of the university’s efforts to work toward respectful, meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

Nearly 60 university leaders and Indigenous community members participated in a pipe ceremony and unveiling, led by Elder Jimmy O’Chiese. Elder O’Chiese spoke about the importance of balancing traditional Indigenous and western education and languages, the need to learn from one another, and the significance of the pipe being passed around the circle of listeners. He touched on diverse histories and injustices past and present, and spoke about the necessity of working together with Indigenous peoples on the journey ahead. He said we must recognize that we cannot change the past, but we have to move forward together.

U of A President David Turpin responded by formally requesting Elder O’Chiese’s advice and support. “Today, we have reaffirmed our commitment: we will continue to consult and collaborate, and work towards thoughtful, respectful, and meaningful reconciliation,” Turpin said. “I’ve invited our senior leaders here, so that they can see how important it is that we walk this path.” Many deans, university vice-presidents, and other faculty, administrative, and Indigenous colleagues were in attendance.

“The Sweetgrass Bear reminds us that we are all treaty people,” Turpin said. “She is a symbol of our relationships: on her side is an inscription that reads, ‘We are all related.’” Together with Elder O’Chiese, Turpin removed the veil from the new sculpture, which stands at the south end of Quad.

The Sweetgrass Bear is part of a larger Provost’s Office initiative to acquire Indigenous art, which seeks to diversify cultural representation on campus. The bear is the first of four instalments in the initiative. An open working committee is being assembled to help select the next three pieces, which will be installed on U of A campuses over the next three years.

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Read more: Stewart Steinhauer on the Sweetgrass Bear in Treaty Six Territory.