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Protect the Sacred

Protect the Sacred

Isaac Murdoch (Onaman Collective)

“Onaman” is the red ochre paint used on rock paintings at sacred sites, on the body in ceremony, and as a medicine by Anishinaabe knowledge carriers. Isaac Murdoch of Onaman Collective is familiar with these many applications as a subsistence hunter, storyteller, and student of the land. He’s especially drawn to the painted places where Anishinaabeg may fast and make offerings in order to receive visions. Importantly, the visions that come in this way don’t “belong” to the dreamer; rather, the dreamer becomes responsible for bringing the vision into the world to do its intended work. Murdoch works to make this land-based knowledge accessible in community and movement spaces. It was during his time at the Standing Rock land protection camp in 2016, fighting against the oil industry’s incursions on tribal lands, that the now-iconic vision of Thunderbird Woman came to Murdoch. Instead of rendering the image with onaman on stone, he drew it on his phone with a forefinger, bringing it into the world of digital media. As a downloadable protest-poster design, and later a set of silkscreens circulated to communities fighting their own anticolonial battles, Thunderbird Woman, Ojibwe Man and other beings of vision have been able to proliferate and do their transformational work. Reflecting on one action where the figures were painted onto massive mobile cut-outs, Murdoch says that “the power of these images is that they can make us fifteen feet tall.”

About the Artist
Onaman Collective is formed by Indigenous artists and environmentalists Christi Belcourt and Isaac Murdoch, who love the land and believe in the spirits of the land. Isaac’s Ojibway name is Manzinapkinegego’anaabe / Bombgiizhik and he is from the fish clan of Serpent River First Nation, Ontario. Christi is a Michif visual artist with a deep respect for the traditions and knowledge of her people; from Mânitow Sâkahikan, Albertaj, living in Anishinaabeg territory on the Northern Shore of Lake Huron, Ontario. Together, they believe in the resilience and beauty of their people and in their Elders and young people. With everything they do, the underlying theme is always respect for the land and reclamation of the ways of their ancestors.

Protect the Sacred is part of Tree Protection Zone, a transformative Indigenous-led public art exhibition at Hart House Circle. See works by other Tree Protection Zone artists: Shuvinai Ashoona, Susan Blight, Carrie Hill, Christi Belcourt (Onaman Collective), Taqralik Partridge in collaboration with Nils Ailo Utsi, and Que Rock/Manitou Nemeen (Quentin Commanda).