News & Events
Participatory art project celebrates Indigenous languages
Artist April Doepker paints at the top of the Arts Building ramp as part of the Living Language Wall project.
By Shannon Boklaschuk
A mural celebrating Indigenous languages attracted and engaged students, faculty and staff during Indigenous Achievement Week.
Métis artist April Doepker was at the top of the Arts Building ramp from Feb. 5—9 to discuss her creation—the Living Language Wall—with onlookers and participants.
In the centre of a large canvas, Doepker painted the word kaskihowin, which means “achievement” in the Plains Cree language. Passersby were encouraged to use graffiti paint markers to add others words to the canvas related to the achievement theme. Participants could choose from 64 words representing eight Indigenous languages: Inuktitut, Plains Cree, Dene, Dakota/Lakota, Nakota, Michif and Saulteaux.
“Part of the point of the project was getting all sorts of people involved and teaching them a bit about these different languages we have in Saskatchewan—but doing it in a fun, kind of cool, way that is interesting to people,” said Doepker.
Doepker, who was born in La Ronge and raised in Saskatchewan, gained an appreciation for street art while studying fashion design in Montreal. She has more than 15 years of experience doing stencil and graffiti art and mainly uses spray paint.
Doepker currently works at SCYAP, where she helps other artists showcase their work with her annual We Needi Graffiti art exhibit. She has curated and organized the show for the last 10 years.
The seeds of the Living Language Wall project were planted after Diana Tegencamp, who was working in the College of Arts & Science Office of the Dean, attended a Cree language camp. She suggested the idea to Kristina Bidwell, associate dean Aboriginal affairs in the college, who then reached out to Doepker on Facebook. Bidwell and Doepker later met, along with executive assistant Jenn Morgan, to discuss the details of the participatory Indigenous Achievement Week project.
“I suggested painting a larger word in the middle of the canvas that said ‘achievement’ and then possibly using graffiti paint markers to write other words around the main word that also went with achievement in all the different Saskatchewan Indigenous languages,” said Doepker. “We all thought this was a pretty neat idea and it went from there.”
Bidwell and Morgan enlisted the help of a team of eight traditional knowledge keepers, language experts and Elders to assist with the word selection: Randy Morin (Plains Cree), Isadore Campbell (Dene), Bob Badger (Saulteaux), Norman Fleury (Michif), Darlene Speidel (Dakota/Lakota), Tim Eashappie Sr. (Nakota) and Bettina Spreng (Inuktitut). The Indigenous words were also translated into English “so people could learn the meanings of the words and they could take home the list to learn more,” said Doepker.
Doepker said there was a great response to the project. Although she hasn’t counted the total number of words, she noted the space on the canvas was filled.
“It was quite a busy week for me, talking to a lot of the people that were walking by and explaining our project and trying to get them involved,” she said.
“I would like thank everyone I worked with on this project and met while I was at the university and all the people who helped make it a success. I had a great experience.”
A formal unveiling of the mural will be held this spring in the Arts Building, where it will remain on display.
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