Reclaiming lost art
Laurentian professor leading search for work created by First Nations children
A Laurentian prof interested in repatriating artwork created by First Nations children is among more than 150 academics across Canada to share in a new $38-million research fund.
Celeste Pedri-Spade, an Indigenous woman who teaches in the School of Northern and Community Studies, was granted $248,682 for her work to collect paintings and drawings by residential school students in Anishinabe and Algonquin territories.
“Her project is just tremendous,” said Science and Sport Minister Kirsty Duncan, on hand Monday at Laurentian to announce the New Frontiers in Research Fund recipients.
“There are 200 drawings by children who went to day school or residential schools, and she’s looking to identify the owners and return them to the families or the descendants, and to do so by working with the community to see the best way of doing that.”
Duncan said three people who spoke during a presentation at the Indigenous Sharing and Learning Centre Monday, including Anishinabek Nation grand council chief Glen Hare, “were surprised to know that their drawings were part of this 200. It was incredibly moving.”
The minister said the New Frontiers fund is meant support “highrisk, high-reward research,” and Pedri-Spade’s project fits right in with this mandate.
“It’s about the voice of children, our most vulnerable,” she said. “It’s historically important and it’s the right thing to do. It’s about a shared path to reconciliation.”
The first stream of the New Frontiers fund is “strictly for early-career researchers,” Duncan noted. “Over the next few years this fund will double and on top of that will be adding $65 million a year.”
A former researcher herself, the minister said when she took on the Science and Sport portfolio her goal was “to return science and research to their rightful place — and that means putting our researchers and students at the centre of everything we do and making sure they have the funding necessary for their research.”
The Liberal government has made the “largest investment in research in Canadian history,” said Duncan. “It’s $10 billion in three budgets, making sure they have the labs and tools they need. And we’ve just made a $762-million investment to the Canada Foundation for Innovation.”
The New Frontiers fund was announced before Christmas but the first wave of recipients was only made known this week.
“There was great interest in it and we were looking for transformative research projects,” she said. “One like Dr. Pedri-Spade’s really is transformative, and that’s what we were looking to support.”
The 157 recipients announced Monday were funded through what is called the exploration stream of the new research fund. More grants will be doled out in the future through transformation and international streams.
“As society evolves, and the complexity of the challenges we face increases, so must our means of doing research evolve,” said Ted Hewitt, chair of the Canada Research Coordinating Committee, in a release.
“The New Frontiers in Research Fund is designed to support leading-edge research and exciting new methodologies that have the potential to transform the way we approach scientific discovery and problem-solving.”
Pedri-Spade hails from Lac Des Mille Lacs First Nation in northwestern Ontario and holds a PhD in visual anthropology. Her doctoral research focused on 84 family photographs taken by First Nations people from 1905 to 1969.
At Laurentian she teaches courses on Indigenous art and photography, as well as Indigenous world views, visual and material culture, and colonialism/ decolonization.
The academic is also an artist, exhibiting work in both Canada and the U.S.
Her primary interest, according to her website, is “the role of Indigenous art in decolonization, including processes of remembrance, resistance, and survivance.”
Celeste Pedri-Spade, of Laurentian University, was one of 157 early career researchers to receive support from the New Frontiers in Research Fund.
Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, takes part in a panel discussion at Laurentian University.