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GDI Receives Unique Art Donation

Nov 6, 2015

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By James Oloo

In general, Gabriel Dumont Institute employees believe in the Institute’s mission – which is “To promote the renewal and the development of Métis culture through research, materials development, collection and the distribution of those materials and the development and delivery of Métis-specific educational programs and services.” Individually, the Institute staff contributes to the realization of this mission both within and without the workplace. So, when the GDI Training and Employment Director Lisa Wilson was in Brandon, Manitoba in August to read/present at a local university and community arts event, she also acted as an ambassador of the Institute.

In her presentation, Lisa shared stories about issues including child welfare and the sixties scoop, and how these led to cultural disruption among Aboriginal peoples with the consequences- such as loss of cultural identity and language – still being felt today.

Lisa noticed a lady in the audience who she thought “felt some affinity to [her] presentation topic.” The lady was Gayle Johnson, and Lisa later got the opportunity to meet her. Ms. Johnson and Lisa discussed a number of issues including “the Children’s Aid and the prevailing notions about child welfare and their implications for Aboriginal children in the Prairie Provinces.”

To give context, the Government of Saskatchewan enacted the Child Welfare Act in 1908. The Act set the stage for the establishment of children’s aid societies across the province by requiring cities with populations of over 10,000 to provide shelters for orphaned and underprivileged children.

Gayle Johnson ended up making a donation of artwork to Lisa. The artwork, by the renowned Ontario artist Dennis Tourbin, is of Louis Riel and was commissioned by Ms. Johnson for her son, Riel, “as a piece of strength and art financial investment” for him. Ms. Johnson indicated that she “felt Louis Riel’s power would protect my [her] Riel.”

Ms. Johnson’s son, Riel Omer William Bisson, overcame adversities and attended Royal Military College and graduated with an Aeronautical Engineering degree in 2011. Sadly, her son Riel died of acute myeloid leukaemia on May 24, 2014 at the age of 34 years. Ms. Johnson stated that, “it is fitting you receive this piece for the Gabriel Dumont Institute. Riel’s passion, strength and determination go with the piece.”

The Gabriel Dumont Institute Publishing Department Director Karon Shmon asserted that the donation is “a great acquisition for GDI!” Jim Edmondson, the Director of Human Resources, said, “I am glad we have the opportunity to get such a beautiful piece.” Director of Finance Cory McDougall stated, “That is a great art piece!” The Director of Dumont Technical Institute, Brett Vandale, said, “A pretty cool piece of art work. Wonderful news!” And Geordy McCaffrey, GDI Executive Director, noted that “I hope GDI can display the artwork in honour of Riel.”

Dennis Tourbin (1946 -1998) was a celebrated Canadian artist whose works are exhibited in the National Gallery of Canada, the Canada Council Art Bank, the National Archives of Canada, Brock University’s Rodman Hall Art Centre, the Art Gallery of Peterborough, and numerous other galleries across Canada and abroad. The Dennis Tourbin Fund for Emerging Artists was established in his memory.

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