10,000 Drowned: Commemorating the Caribou
Orr, Margaret Grace
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This exhibition commemorates a caribou herd that drown during their fall migration in 1984. The disaster occurred when Hydro-Quebec opened the Caniapiscau reservoir spill gates two hundred and seventy miles upstream from Limestone Falls on the Caniapiscau River. This caused the river level to rise and send a torrent of water towards the Ungava Bay. At their traditional river crossing, thousands of caribou were swept over the falls and drowned. This paper supports my MFA graduating exhibition, 10,000 Drowned, installed in The Fifth Parallel Gallery from November 25 to December 6, 2019. 10,000 Drowned is an installation of six large oil paintings representing the land, sky, water, fire, four directions, and the migration of caribou. There are also four large ceramic vessels representing air, water, land, and fire, and one hundred ceramic antlers representing the lost caribou. In addition, a video installation shows the caribou’s point of view as they travel over the land and then drown. The exhibition is my delayed response to my anguish over this disaster. I grew up on the land situated around the Chisasibi River in Northern Quebec. Through my Cree and Inuit relatives, I absorbed a lot of knowledge about how to live with the land and animals; how to survive using only basic of tools. These teachings come from how we relate with the natural environment and with one another. This paper describes my life and community. This background is essential to understanding the meaning of the caribou and this event in our lives. Through stories and by reflecting on my research process, I hope to offer insight into how contemporary forms of Indigenous art-making continue from traditional Cree knowledge practices. I returned to the site of the drownings many times. I mapped the caribou migration territory from a bird’s-eye view. I talked to elders and others about this event. But it was only when I took this experiential research method to a deeper embodied level that I got close to the meaning of this event. Only by submerging myself in icy water, feeling what drowning was like, was I able to complete my connection with these beings.