Gwiiwzens Dreamed of Spirit Horses
on verso signed and dated 2023
12 x 3 3/4 x 33 1/2 in 30.5 x 9.5 x 85.1 cm
Collection of the Artist
Complete medium: found pair of children’s cowboy boots, vintage cobbler's shoe rests, glass-beads, electronic components (capacitors, resistors, light emitting diodes), coated wire, tin cones, synthetic hair, synthetic poly fill material, synthetic sinew and velvet.
As colonization spread out across North America, so too did ongoing eradication of animal species in tandem with the decimation of populations of Indigenous people. For the sake of men’s top hats in Europe, the fashion from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, in many places where beavers thrived for millennia, the populations disappeared. The manufacturing of bone china and fertilizer as well as hunting for sport reduced the mighty bison herds to near extinction by the late 1800s. In the polar regions of the North, between the 1950s and the 1970s, RCMP ordered the slaughter of sled dogs, forcing Inuit into a way of life at odds with nomadic traditions stretching back thousands of years.
In the South around the Great Lakes, the “Ojibwe Spirit Horses” almost entirely perished. Although the accepted historical account has been that horses came to North America with the Spanish, Indigenous species did exist prior to colonization, including this breed, whose habitat was the boreal forests. They evolved to suit the conditions of the forests, with thick fur-like hair and manes as well as hard hooves. The Anishinaabeg lived in proximity to the herds. Their relationship with the horses evolved into a symbiotic as well as spiritual one. Oral histories recount the unique relationship they had with this semi-feral breed who would be used to work along trap lines and for hauling during the warmer months and then roam wild in the winter. These stories are moving but they also share a tragic parallel colonial history with Indigenous people in Canada.
The horses are also referred to as the Lac La Croix Indian Pony (LLCIP), for the last known examples of these horses in the wild were in the Lac La Croix First Nation (now Neguaguon Lake First Nation), by the Ontario-Minnesota border. The encroachment of European settlement, the coming of motorized vehicles, and the killing of the horses for use in the glue industry all contributed to the reduction of their population. Another contributing factor was the forcible resettlement of Indigenous people onto reserves and the instituting of the Pass System, which required residents to have a government agent approve their ability to leave the confinement of the reserve.
Much like the culling of sled dogs in the North, this enforced restriction, along with the reduction of their land base as white settlement spread, cut off the Anishinaabeg from the roaming horse populations. The custodial relationship was severed. By 1977 this breed, known for its intelligence and gentle behaviour, was reduced to four last mares. To remove them from the danger they faced in Canada at being put down by government officials, the mares were moved across the Canada-US border to Minnesota. To save the species they were bred with a Spanish mustang. In the 1980s two male foals were born, Keokuk (Fox that Roams) in 1980 and Nimkii (Lightning) in 1985, founding the bloodline of the modern LLCIP. They are now on the Canadian livestock conservation list and approximately 150 exist on farms in both the United States and Canada, including Madahòkì in Ottawa, an event and tourism farm that showcases Indigenous culture, and whose name means “to share the land” in Algonquin Anishinaabemowin.
The sculptural assemblage work Gwiiwzens Dreamed of Spirit Horses echoes Barry Ace’s 2017 work Erased (collection of Global Affairs Canada), this time using a found pair of children’s cowboy boots that Ace embellished with his signature electronic components and glass bead medicine flower motifs. The small boots rest on top of two vintage stylized galloping silver horse cobbler shoe rests. The wire fringe extending out from the back of the boots points to the erasure of the Ojibwe Spirit Horses and growing public awareness of the brutal colonial history that attempted to eradicate them. Yet the title of the work implies an element of optimism for the future as Gwiiwzens (Young Boy) dreamed of the return of these Spirit Horses.
We thank Leah Snyder, digital designer and writer, The L.Project, for contributing the following essays. Snyder writes about culture, technology and contemporary art, and is a contributor to the National Gallery of Canada’s Gallery magazine and other Canadian art and architecture publications.
All quotes attributed to the artist unless otherwise noted.
This work is accompanied by a letter of authenticity and provenance signed by the artist
Price: $18,000 CAD
Available for viewing at: Heffel Montreal
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