Chief Membertou Prints
When I started this project I knew very little about him, only that he was the first Mi’kmaq baptized 400 years ago. The more information that I was able to find opened up a whole new world for me. I learned that he was a chief, that he was physically taller than the Mi’kmaq and the Europeans. He was over 100 years old when this baptism took place. Another striking thing about Membertou was that he was part of a world before contact, and when contact was brand new. He befriended the French missionaries and became very close to them. I believe there was pressure to become Catholic. At the same time, he didn’t want to be separated from his ancestors so when his death was near he requested that he be buried in a traditional way.
He was a man of two worlds so you see he has a cross and a medicine pouch hanging from his neck. I painted him red ochre in colour, which is a sacred colour that the Mi’kmaq were painted for the burial ceremony. This was so they could be recognized by the creator. I wasn’t trying to make a conventional portrait. I made his face a rectangle as symbolized in the traditional way; the typical portrait is a more European concept. There is a ship in the distance to remind us that the Mi’kmaq world has changed forever.
Membertou was a man that was trying to find a way to deal with a changing world. I think his baptism was a way to build an alliance that he hoped would benefit his people. I think that you cannot convert anyone one hundred percent and he never abandoned his traditional beliefs. The majority of Mi’kmaq have been Catholic for the last four hundred years, but our roots go much deeper than that and have endured for many millennia.