I have a love for the land; it is my teacher, guide, and influence.
My name is sipihkosiw ahkōp iskwew (Blue Blanket Woman) and my English name is Reanna Merasty.
I am nîhithaw (Woodlands Cree) from kisipakamak (where the water ends) also known as Brochet or Barren Lands First Nation off the north-shore of Reindeer Lake in Northern Manitoba. I am a fourth-year architecture student at the University of Manitoba. I plan on continuing my education with a Masters in Architecture.
I identity Reindeer Lake as part of my homeland because I grew up on the lands of its islands and on its waters. Being fully immersed in Mother Earth allowed me fully to understand what she has to offer us and see her influence in design and architecture.
I have developed a profound love for Reindeer Lake, having been away for five years now. It is a space where my grandfather exposed me to hunting, trapping, and fishing and it was where I was first exposed to the art of building. My grandfather knew the materials and how to move through the land and waters. He knew general building construction that was inherent. I wish I had paid more attention to what he was teaching us during my time as a young child.
The teaching and process of wâhkôhtowin is something that guide the way I live my life and work. Wâhkôhtowin translates to “everything is related” in the Cree language, and is a teaching in Cree Natural Law. It is the interrelationship between human beings, the trees, the rocks, the land, and the animals on Mother Earth.
In my architecture studio, during the term of Fall 2018, we had the pleasure of collaborating with Shoal Lake 40. The community tasked us with designing a series of ceremonial spaces.
Prior to being introduced to the site (area/location of design), we were welcomed into the community by a couple. They started off with a Pipe Ceremony. Offering us guidance and teachings, and their wishes/hopes for the community. We then offered our prayers with tobacco ties, giving thanks for the opportunity, and to work on this project in a good way.
The site is located off the shore of Shoal Lake, it is the most serene piece of land. During our visit to the area, I immediately felt calm, safe, and peaceful. The majority is surrounded by smooth waters, which created a reflected and continuous series of landscape.
This land gave me a type of feeling.
I saw and experienced every piece of this land. I saw the trees, soil, rocks, and plants as living, and as my relative. I heard the waters that hit the shore and picked up voices from wind blowing through the branches.
When you experience an upmost connection to these elements, you do not want to disrupt or conquer. There is an interrelationship between the land and us: we should not see ourselves as greater than the land, and we should not have a desire or intend to dominate the land.
This experience was wâhkôhtowin.
This experience in architecture is what I have been searching for the past two years while being in a Faculty with little Indigenous representation. It was an incredible experience, and I will always be grateful for it.
This experience has inspired me to create natural, sustainable, organic, and sensitive design. I feel this reciprocity with Mother Nature, this idea of living in a reciprocal relationship where the earth does not belong to us, we belong to it, is fundamental to my work.
During the term, I was in a constant stage of gratitude, expression, and love. Grateful to have this experience, to express and learn my Indigenous heritage through research and ceremony. I also appreciated the opportunity to teach other individuals on the history and knowledge of Indigenous peoples, who weren’t exposed to prior to the studio.
Architecture was a way to regain and express my roots as an Indigenous woman, through this interaction and relationship with First Nation communities, elders, and other amazing individuals. I see architecture as a form of reclamation, reclaiming and regaining control of our own lands.
I want to be able use my Indigenous culture and the knowledge that I have learnt, to work with and for Indigenous people, and for all living beings on Mother Earth.
This is how the land and the process of wâhkôhtowin have influenced my aspirations and me.