Portraits of the North
These stunning images, drawn in pencil by Gerald Kuehl are part of a series entitled Portraits of the North. We are delighted to feature two of the drawings in this issue of The Arrow, along with short biographies of each Elder. We hope you enjoy these beautiful creations as much as we do!
Wellington Spence, Nelson House, Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation
Wellington Spence was born in 1921, near Mynarski Lakes, and was one of eleven children. He was six years old when a nurturing relationship with the land began—it lasted a lifetime.
At age seven he went to residential school, and he recalled how at 17 when he left school, “I was extremely angry and violent and for the next twelve years was in and out of jail for fighting.”
In the 1950s Wellington met an Elder in Dauphin, jailed for running a sweat lodge. “He spoke about what my grandfathers had taught me, the seven teachings and the laws of life. I absorbed his words, changed my behaviour, and was never in trouble with the law again.”
In 1955 Wellington began living with Madeleine Nicholas in Waboden. They enjoyed a long, loving relationship, and were blessed with eleven children of their own. Over the years they fostered over 70 children and adopted two grandchildren. “Somehow we managed to feed and clothe them. Madeleine did a lot of sewing in those days.”
“I taught my children kindness, love and to respect all people.”
Madeleine Spence, Nelson House, Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation
Madeleine was born in 1933 on a trapline near Suwannee Lake and was one of thirteen children.
She recalled how her relationship with her mother was particularly close. “I learned how to be a midwife, tan hides, perform beadwork, pick traditional plants for medicine and cook on an open fire. I also learned how to care for children because I had younger siblings.” Her mother, Sarah Linklater, always stressed the importance of being kind and showing respect to everybody. And she remembered her dad, Lionel Nicholas, always laughing, even when he was hard at work.
At eleven years of age Madeleine attended the residential school in Sturgeon Landing. She also worked in people’s homes, doing various chores, throughout her teenage years. Then, with school complete, she returned home where “Wellington was waiting for me.” Wellington and Madeleine had known each other since they were children, and began living together after the birth of their first son. They had a large family and fostered many children from the community.
“I’ve had a good life. When I think back, I wish I could return to the bush. To walk in the wilderness, pick berries, smoke meat, fish, tan hides, make bannock—those are my happiest memories.”
You can view all 11 portraits at our 2-1100 Waverley office in Winnipeg.