Image of the artwork: Blackfoot Confederacy by Sable Sweetgrass
Blackfoot Confederacy | by: Sable Sweetgrass

Indigenous Motherhood and Matriarchy

By Meghan Power

Indigenous Motherhood and Matriarchy was a series of three group exhibitions held in different locations around Calgary.

The exhibitions were curated by Saulteaux/Métis Curator, Autumn Whiteway, with assistance from Exhibition Coordinator, Miriam Fabijan. According to Autumn, “the exhibition was an exploration of the timeless and timely subject of motherhood and matriarchy through an Indigenous lens.” The funding received from CADA helped support the second and third exhibitions.


The works presented were selected by Autumn for how they illustrate the profound impact colonialism has had on matriarchal systems and traditional child rearing practices. “Despite this, Indigenous women display a fierce resilience; providing strength to our communities, reclaiming, and maintaining traditions, and passing on wisdom for the generations to come.”


It was late in 2019, when Autumn originally agreed to curate a group exhibition for Making Treaty 7 Cultural Society; however, with a reorganization of MT7, shortly before the pandemic, Autumn and Miriam decided to work together to curate the exhibition independently. Autumn began working on the project within days of the premature emergency birth of her son. For Autumn, this project was about reclaiming ancestral traditions and bringing them to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous audiences. And so, it was important how Indigenous womxn and Indigenous views on matriarchy and motherhood in Alberta and across Turtle Island were represented: “It was very important for me to include the voices of Two Spirit and Transgender mothers and womxn… as I feel they are vital and have been somewhat silenced by shifting attitudes resulting from colonialism.”


The exhibitions have had a wide reach across Turtle Island through online exhibitions, Zoom sessions with artists, Elders, and media interviews most of which were made available online. Autumn also created an educational package about Indigenous Motherhood and Matriarchy for distribution to students and agencies in Alberta to help revitalize ceremonial practices surrounding rites of passage in Indigenous communities in Alberta.


“Funding for Indigenous creatives is extremely important to allow artists a means of expression outside of the tourism and collectors art market.” Autumn points to a study (featured in a recent issue of Canadian Art) that showed that Indigenous artists make 68 cents to the dollar relative to their non-Indigenous counterparts. “Without funding, many projects may never come to fruition due to financial barriers,” says Autumn. “I’m very grateful for the opportunities that CADA has provided to me through their funding of the Indigenous Motherhood and Matriarchy and Mino-Pimatisiwin: Reclaiming the Good Life exhibitions, and the Original Peoples Investment Program. This funding kickstarted my career as an emerging artist and curator and has led to many other opportunities. These opportunities have given me a new career path that allows me to provide for my family. I’ve been curating for Making Treaty 7 Cultural Society for nearly a year and was selected for the Emerging Curator Fellowship with Alberta Foundation for the Arts. My exhibition, Cross Cultura, based on their collections, will be exhibited later this year. As an artist, I have been extremely busy. I’m currently working on projects for a large grocery chain, course development related to TRC #92, and activist art for a Calgary landmark.”