Garneau creates token of Métis culture

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Campus professor crafts Riel memorial coin

On Oct. 22 the Royal Canadian Mint unveiled a coin commemorating the life of Louis Riel. The designer of the coin was David Garneau, a professor in the University of Regina’s Faculty of Media, Art, and Performance.

For Garneau, commemorating a man that the state murdered by designing art for the same colonialist state left him with “mixed feelings.”

“To design a coin for the state that killed him, and in a form that celebrates an individual male hero would seem to be against this grain. It is.”

“I attended the unveiling of the coin at Louis Riel’s 175 Birthday Celebration in Winnipeg yesterday [Oct. 22]. It was a large gathering of Métis leaders and supporters who continue the struggle for our land and sovereign rights. I saw in their faces and felt through their handshakes their genuine appreciation and need for these tactile and conventional symbols. Folks talked about their sense of the fragility of the Nation, of their coming in to view. Art is a form of visibility, of presence.”

In a recent Facebook post, Garneau said his feelings about the coin are linked to both his heritage and his community’s use for the coins.

‘The Métis Nation purchased 3,000 of these coins. They plan to use them to honour and connect; award them to individuals and connect them to or as Métis people. The coin commemorates Riel, but also the Métis people and the Mitchif language (inscribed on a coin for the first time). Riel wears his beaded buckskin, rather than a suit, and he is wrapped in a sash which represents the community.’

“The Riel Commemorative coin was the result of team work. My designs were guided by the Métis Nation and other Métis advisors. The end result as a work of Métis culture, facilitated by the Canadian Mint, and is primarily for Métis people and their supporters. The coin is accessible to Métis people who would like a work of Métis art, a Métis heirloom, Métis trophy or award. The coin is a portable monument, a mobile memorial that links Métis with their history and Nation.”

“While I remain uneasy about the coin, I see the necessity of collaborating with mainstream institutions to meet Métis ends. I feel the value of these accessible tokens of cultural being and belonging to Métis people.”

In an interview via email Garneau explained how the project came to be.

“The Canadian Mint has the idea to do a Riel coin. They approached the Metis Nation of Canada for recommended artists. I was on the list, and then one of the short-listed approved artists. I don’t know how many artist[s] made that first cut. We designed an initial draft. My design won. Then I refined the design in consultation with the Mint who also worked with the Metis Nation. It went through many drafts before going to engraving. The whole process took a year. I was sworn to secrecy the whole time.”

Garneau also explained his creative process in designing the coin.

“The Metis Nation wanted Riel front and centre. The few photos him have him in western suits and coats. They wanted him in a beaded jacket. I know of two of his in collections. My favourite is in the Canadian History Museum. I had shots from several visits. There were many back and forth over the sash. I love the loop looking like half of the Metis flag. This is the first time a coin has featured the Mitchif language.”

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