The above paintings were completed during my last year of study at the University of Lethbridge. Researching the history of the land in Southern Alberta through texts, past news articles, photographic collections, and travels to local historic sites and Provincial Parks, I was able to gain a greater understanding of the land I was living on. Further reflecting on these locations during the act of painting them, I started to feel a greater connection to their histories as sites of spiritual, cultural, environmental, and political importance.
The Sweet Grass Hills, located in Montana shortly across the Canada-USA border, are visible from the UNESCO World Heritage Site Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park. The Blackfoot name for the Sweet Grass Hills, Katoyissiksi, comes from a story about a young man named Katoyissa (This story is shared in English and Blackfoot on the Glenbow Museum website: https://www.glenbow.org/blackfoot/EN/html/traditional_stories.htm#katoyissa). Both the Sweet Grass Hills and Writing-On-Stone, known as Áísínai’pi, are important cultural sites to the Blackfoot people. All of the locations depicted in this series of paintings are part of the lands traditionally belonging to the people of the Blackfoot Confederacy.
The Milk River runs through Áísínai’pi and along the north side of Katoyissiksi. The Milk River and the St. Mary River both take form within the territory of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in the United States, then crossing the border into Canada. The Milk River eventually turns back across the border to join the Missouri River within Montana, while the St. Mary joins the Oldman River, itself a tributary of the South Saskatchewan River.
The St. Mary Reservoir, developed in the 1950s through the damming of the St. Mary River, borders the Kainai Nation Blood 148 Indian Reserve. It is also close to the town of Cardston, AB, which was established by Mormon settlers in the 1880s on the edge of the reserve and today remains a majority Mormon population. The Reservoir was built mainly to service agricultural irrigation needs, delivering water through canals and pipelines to over 350,000 acres of land between Lethbridge and Medicine Hat, making it Canada's largest irrigation district.
The Galt Museum in Lethbridge holds an extensive collection of photographs documenting the construction of the Dam and the opening ceremonies in 1951 (all shared digitally here: https://collections.galtmuseum.com/en/list?q=st.+mary%27s+dam&p=3&ps=20&objectType_facet=Photograph&sort=title_sort+asc).