A painting of two First Nations women on a storefront in Bathurst, New Brunswick, has incensed Natives who say that it is insensitive given the crisis of Missing or Murdered Indigenous Women.
The women in the painting are depicted bound and gagged on the deck of a ship. The scene comes from a local story, the “Legend of the Phantom Ship,” which is recounted at length on the official Bathurst website. Here’s the passage that relates to the painting:
The pilot was in for a big surprise; he found two Indian girls, tied up and completely covered with pelts. The pirates had kidnapped them, while their parents were drunk. The captain and his first mate intended to have their way with these two girls and to throw them in the sea afterwards. This is what they did, or tried to do, at each trip.
Another painting, depicting a standing priest or ship’s captain speaking to three Native women who are seated, was also found to be in questionable taste. As the Halifax Media Co-op explained, “No explanation – rational or otherwise – accompanied the two images in the storefront window in which they appeared.”
The paintings were commissioned by the Bathurst Art Society for the town’s “Hospitality Days” festival, which ran July 20-26. Both images were on display for the duration of the festival, although they have been removed now due to the outcry. Patty Musgrave, Aboriginal advisor for NBCC Moncton and host of the campus’ annual Sisters in Spirit vigil, sent a scathing open letter to Bathurst City Council. It reads, in part:
The painting that made me the sickest was depicting two Mi’kmaq women, ankles and hands bound and mouths covered. Yes, I am aware of the sickening “legend” of the Phantom Ship and unlike most of New Brunswick, understand the history of this coastal area and the rapes and most likely murders of Mi’kmaq women that took place with each ship arriving in the bay. Murders. These women are now our Ancestors. They were degraded and used and abused and left for dead over the side of ships. Ripped from their families and for the most part, never to be seen again.
Were you aware that still happens today? Were you aware of the social media hashtag #MMIW? It stands for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Were you aware or do you even acknowledge that there are approximately 1800 missing and/or murdered women across this country as we speak? Were you aware that a National Inquiry is one of the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee? Do you know what the TRC is? Do you understand what it all means? Have you heard of Sisters in Spirit? Do you know that each October 4th NATIONALLY we hold vigils to honour our Missing and Murdered sisters…including those who died centuries ago. Because it is STILL happening Mayor, Council and Committee. Please feel free to see nwac.ca to educate yourselves.
Patricia Mae Grant of the Pabineau First Nation told CTV News Atlantic that she was “absolutely shocked” and “really surprised that that sort of imagery would be up there,” but added that “I really don’t think it was an intentional attack or anything like that. I think it was just not thought out.”
Rita May Gates, president of the Bathurst Art Society, told CTV that “We are all really sorry that some people have been hurt. … I was hurt because some people were hurt. I take things personal. I am the president and I take full responsibility.”