Updated: Sep 1, 2021
RENEE LAPRISE - ARTIST STATEMENT
RENEE LAPRISE BIOGRAPHY
Born and raised in Southern Ontario, Renee has a BFA from the University of Toronto and currently lives and creates in Prince Edward Island. After years of working to find her voice as an artist, Renee has developed a style that is uniquely hers. The stories told in each painting are inspired by Renee’s past and present day experiences intermingled with nature and local PEI landscapes. Underlying all of her work is an intense interest in the interconnection of the physical and non-physical realms.
This is me in grade three. I was a dark-skinned kid with French speaking parents growing up in a tiny English-speaking town in Southern Ontario. I’d been called an Indian more than a few times by then and for the rest of my life I’d often be recognized as such by white and Indigenous folks alike.
We didn’t really know for sure what our history was. My grandmother talked about growing up on a reserve and there were stories about full ‘Indian’ grandmothers somewhere in our family. Not growing up in the culture I didn’t identify as Indigenous … though it didn’t stop people from making that assumption of me, for better or worse.
As I got older, I felt an affinity for the spiritual side of Indigenous teachings and for the traditional and contemporary work of Indigenous artists. When my daughter was born, I wanted her to be exposed to Indigenous culture. I decided to take her to an Indigenous Day celebration in our neighbourhood and found myself surrounded by hundreds of women who looked just like me. I took this as a sign that I needed to pursue my heritage. But not knowing my lineage, I really had no community to identify with. My heart yearned to find my people, so in my naivety I tried to learn on my own.
In the mid 2000’s, my parents, Marie and Claude Laprise, embarked on their own journey to find their heritage. They confirmed that we descended from French/Indigenous ancestors from the area I was born and raised in. They reached out to historians and people in the community and realized that much of their present-day culture was shaped by the traditions and the language of their ancestors on both sides who lived and intermarried in this same area since the 1700’s.
My parents soon became leaders and activists reviving the community called ‘Muskrat Métis’ based on historical and current day cultural activities, food and language. This was healing journey for many people including my parents, other community members and even people from the local First Nations communities. They formed a family.
My parents passed away in 2018 within four months of each other. At the memorial their community gathered in a circle and softly sang while my sister and I laid their ashes in the river once travelled by our ancestors and where Dad taught all of his grand babies to fish.
My family has four confirmed direct lines to three ancestral grandmothers dating back to the 1700’s from Huron, Ojibwe and the historical Kaskaskias Nations. Over hundreds of years, generations of our ancestors made the rivers and marshes at the tip of Southern Ontario their home. I am the product of this community’s cultural ways which developed over centuries. I am also the product of apparently very strong genes which have led me to being identified as Indigenous since childhood. .
Since I wasn’t in Ontario during this time of reclamation, I continued to not formally identify for over a decade. I admit I was feeling very guilty about this, not just because of my parents but because I felt like I was copping out of helping forward Indigenous sovereignty. During Idle No More I became a very active ally and more and more was identified as kin by friends in various Indigenous communities.
After my parents passed, I wanted to honour them and I thought I could be a better ally from the inside by finally formally identifying myself as Métis. In 2020, I decided to become an Indigenous film/TV producer to help forward the projects of my Mi’kmaq friends and started to apply for Indigenous focused funding. But in December of 2020 things got really complicated and I found out that I would not be able to apply for Indigenous funding because I was not considered an Indigenous storyteller due to the fact that my community was not acknowledged by the Métis Nation.
While I was aware that Métis Nation had been disputing those communities not descending from the Red River area, including my own, the Muskrat Métis, I wasn’t aware that this would exclude me from formally self-identifying as Métis since my community is active and has proven Indigenous lineage.
I understand the issues surrounding identification are complex and I have so much love and respect for the Métis Nation and all of the Indigenous Nations of Turtle Island. But I also love and respect my Muskrat Métis community which has a long rich history informed by Indigenous and French cultures. Without Red River lineage the only way we could be recognized officially is to create a separate nation. My parents wanted recognition for their community, not separate nationhood. They also never wanted money or land rights. Knowing that they may never be fully embraced, they put their focus on restoring their community in their own way. Admittedly they did some things that from my perspective were appropriative and perhaps performative to a certain extent. But I have spent a lot of time with Indigenous people trying to find their way back home and sometimes efforts stray into the performative until a deep understanding happens. Regardless of whether they were doing it 'right', I admire my parents so much because they left as their legacy a loving and vibrant, inclusive and healthy community who continues to meet and share food, stories and music to this day.
Being a visitor on Mi’kmaq territory I value my role as ally in this community who know my story and continue to identify me as kin and teach me their spiritual ways. I am committed to Indigenous sovereignty and understand that my Muskrat Métis community falls in a strange place on that spectrum. It is for this reason that until my community is either recognized by Métis Nation or is granted its own nationhood, I will no longer formally identify as Indigenous and all my artwork will be accompanied by this artist statement so that people collecting will be able to make up their own minds about my heritage and whether its influence on my work is appropriative.
That said, my skin is a reminder of the blood that runs through my veins and thus my art is a reflection of my heritage, my education and my intense fifty years of life on this planet. I am proud of who I am and of the art that I make. I offer these visual ‘stories’ to you from my heart.