The journey continues…the Launch of Niimki and Inouk
By Bradley Rusk
I have been around the Métis world for a few years now. I am not Métis; however, through my wife, Barbara Rusk, I have been introduced into this sphere.
Niimki, the canoe, first came into my life as a large, bark like thing in my garage. Resting on two wood horses, it spent the better part of year there.
When my friends would come over I would always go over the list of materials that went into building the canoe: birch bark, cedar, ash, pine gum and bear grease. “Where does he get the bear grease?” they would ask. “Bears, I assume, “ would come the reply. The world of bears is a distant memory in most city minds.
Niimki, like an urban legend, seemed to grow with time. Marcel Labelle, Niimki’s creator, and his essence are alive in this vessel. Then, the paddle, Inouk, gifted by Micheline Boisvert, accentuated an already magnificent craft. And, as it turns out, these two people were long lost cousins – reunited by the acts of charity and talent.
I’ve heard the story of the cousins told many times – it seems to touch people open to the spirit – people who are willing listen to the trees and wind. It brought one man to tears that had come to our door to buy a ticket one evening. It was a good evening.
However, like anything, Niimki seemed destined to remain in the garage or travelling to the odd cultural event. As Niimki remained silent – Barb spent countless hours getting a raffle together – telling the story and discovering her own identity. The entire range of human emotion ebbed and flowed. Just when it seemed like this was never going to take off – it came together.
Niimki is no longer in our garage.
I attended the launch; with, thirty or so other souls, who braved the heavy rain to see Niimki and Inouk, take the next step in what we all hope is a long journey. As usual I watched from the shadows. I’m always welcome at Métis events but I still feel like a ghost clings to me. It is difficult to explain. The eyes of the Métis people tell me I belong; but, I feel as if my blood prevents it. However, on this occasion – that all broke down. I’m not sure if was the Ojibway words and ceremony or the complete grace exhibited by Luci, Niimki’s new caretaker. The event pulled me in and washed away all inhibition. I was truly moved and felt tears emerging from behind corporate eyes.
As Luci, Marcel, and Niimki cut through the swifter than anticipated Grand River – I felt a sense of being part of something. Something good…something bigger than all of us.
I was honoured…
Lightning strikes a forest giant. A Métis artist sees more than a damaged tree… He sees a mode of transportation, a piece of priceless art, his ancestors’ legacy.
Niimki, Lightning Spirit, was crafted by Métis Artist Marcel Labelle using only hand tools and traditional methods. This 14 foot, one piece, birch bark canoe has a market value of $9,990.00.
This is your chance to own a piece of history!
Tickets will be $20 each.
Draw date will be June 5th, 2010 in the Year of the Métis
Marcel Labelle is recognized by the Ontario Arts Council as an aboriginal artist
Photo by Marcel Labelle
Marcel Labelle is a descendant of the Algonquin s and the French settlers. Being Métis, he was able to take the best of both worlds and become the link between the two cultures. After taking a spiritual journey across the country, Marcel was given dreams. In these dreams, his ancestors taught him the skills needed to make them a reality.
His dream was to build something with incredible beauty and strength; a craft that has been instrumental in the discovery of this land and its indigenous people.
The giant birch tree Marcel found in the forests of his hometown of Mattawa, Ontario, helped him with this task. This tree that had been struck by lightning became Niimki, Lightning Spirit.
The fourteen (14) foot craft is made entirely of natural materials. Cedar wood, Birch and its bark, Spruce roots and gum. Niimki was forged surrounded by fields of Sweet grass on the shores of Antoine Creek. This waterway leads to the Ottawa River, which Samuel de Champlain himself travelled centuries ago. This canoe is not only a mode of transportation, it is a piece of art; a historical tribute to those who lived before us. Niimki is a vital part of this country’s legacy. It helps in giving the ability to Canada’s first people, including the proud Métis, to ensure the vitality of our culture and the longevity of our heritage. Riel himself said that it would be the artist that would give new life to our traditions and culture.
With the building of this canoe, Marcel has brought an important piece of our history back to the forefront. It is time for us all to embrace our differences and celebrate what makes us who we are. The Métis people of Canada.