Reflects in Water
Leah Decter with Peace Alliance Winnipeg
Program: WITH ART Project
Location: Waterfront Drive Active Transportation Path & Stephen Juba Park
Medium: Water, Stencils, Text, Participatory Performance
Matched through the WITH ART community public art program, artist Leah Decter and Peace Alliance Winnipeg sought to bring attention to water rights and the disparity of water access in municipal centers and First Nations in Canada through the development of an art project. In particular, they focused on Shoal Lake 40 First Nation’s struggles resulting from Winnipeg’s use of Shoal Lake water.
Reflects in Water was an ephemeral and participatory art-action where the public was invited to engage with statements from members of Shoal Lake 40 First Nations by stenciling them onto a public path on Waterfront Drive near the Aqueduct Monument, using unpotable water acquired directly from Shoal Lake. As the water evaporated the statements disappeared, reflecting the tendency for these issues to quickly fade from public attention and highlighting the need to not only constantly reiterate but also to be present and active in order to make change.
Peace Alliance Winnipeg is committed to developing a broad movement for peace in Winnipeg, and identifies relations and persistent disparities between Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous people in Canada as vital to peace and justice. Building on their track record of welcoming outside organization and supporting/collaborating on various crucial justice issues, the partners reached out to the greater community. The project was guided by a working group made up of the partners and representatives from Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, Shoal Lake 40 Museum of Canadian Human Rights Violations, Decolonizing Network Manitoba, Friends of Shoal Lake 40, 13 Fires Winnipeg, the Council of Canadians and the University of Winnipeg Student Union.
The working group endeavoured to proceed in an equitable and respectful manner. They visited Shoal Lake 40 First Nation and had conversations with community members about their concerns and hopes for the future of the water and the community. These conversations were then distilled into a set of statements and made into large scale stencils and banners. Unpotable water was gathered directly from Shoal Lake with permission from the First Nation to speak to the use and procurement of resources from First Nations. The art-action was presented in conjunction with the 13 Fires Water Fire conversation, a slate of speakers including Shoal Lake 40 FN members, who discussed water issues from various perspectives and actions that can be taken. To guide the use of the water and day of action, Elder Mae Louise Campbell was invited to open the day with a teaching and a water blessing.
“For Peace Alliance Winnipeg it was a path of discovery which culminated in a project that expressed our values and method of work. For the project itself, it grew beyond any initial thoughts we had for scope and vision. It was an important statement on human rights, the rights of First Nations and the failure of Canadian society to address those rights. It encompassed the community through the other groups that joined, and then the city itself because of the attention it garnered.” - Glenn Michalchuk for Peace Alliance Winnipeg
Leah Decter is an inter-media artist currently based in Winnipeg, Canada; Treaty 1 territory. Her work integrates video, audio and other digital media, installation, textiles, performance, critical collaboration, social practice and writing. Decter has exhibited, presented and screened her work widely in Canada and internationally. Her social practice has included performative activist interventions and large-scale pubic art and dialogic projects across Canada. Decter holds an MFA in New Media from Transart Institute (Berlin) and is currently a PhD Candidate in Cultural Studies at Queens University (Kingston, Canada).