A Day of Ceremony for the Opening of Qaumajuq

Project Spotlight: Elders and ceremonial leaders welcome Qaumajuq and the artworks inside.

ch’i cha jų̃ kwa’ch’e Dän däw Kwenjè Nän / Nün
Seven people wrapped in star blankets face away from the camera, towards an artwork depicting an Arctic landscape.

As part of Qaumajuq’s opening celebrations, the centre held a day of Ceremony with Indigenous ceremonial leaders and Elders, to begin this new journey in a good way.

In the summer of 2020, WAG Head of Indigenous Initiatives Julia Lafreniere passed tobacco to Dakota Grandfather Wanbdi Wakita and asked how to best host a Ceremony for the new Inuit art centre building. His directives were very clear: ceremonial leaders from each of the seven Indigenous nations of Manitoba would welcome the artworks and building to Treaty 1, Métis and Dakota territory with a day of prayer. 

Seven people wrapped in star blankets face away from the camera, towards an artwork depicting an Arctic landscape.

It was a day to honour the ancestors, nourish the spirit of the artworks at the WAG, so that spirit could be brought into the entire building—each room and gallery space—allowing for a safe opening. It laid the groundwork for continued ceremony and the ongoing spiritual care the art and building will receive. This special day, generously supported by the Manitoba Arts Council honoured the care and commitment that has been put into creating Qaumajuq, and the Indigenous knowledge it holds.

A qulliq was lit, Sacred Pipes were lifted and an Eagle Whistle was blown, some of the most powerful traditions from the first people of this territory, to invite the spirits to join participants in ceremony. Prayers were said with the sacred medicines for the protection of the building, the artworks and their spirits, and everyone who comes through the doors.  The WAG is very grateful for the prayers of Dene ceremonial leader Victor Tssessaze and his son Daylan, Dakota Grandfather Wanbdi Wakita and Grandmother Pahan Pte San Win, Anishinaabe Elder Dr. Mary Courchene, Inuit Elders Martha Peet and Joachim Ayaruak, Métis Elder Marcella Vezina, Chief Dennis Meeches, Jolene Mercer, and OjiCree Ceremonial Leader Byron Beardy and his sons Jayden and Jackson III.

Three people wrapped in star blankets cluster together, smiling and laughing

Star Blanket Ceremony

In honour of their work and dedication, members of the WAG Indigenous Advisory Circle received star blankets in Qilak, Qaumajuq’s main gallery space. While the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the gathering of all members in person, each blanket was cleansed with sage before being sent to its recipient: Dr. Stephen Borys, Kablusiak, Elder Dr. Mary Courchene, Stuart Desnomie, Sherry Farrell Racette, Jarita Greyeyes, Dr. Heather Igloliorte (co-chair), Tanya Lukin-Linklater, Dr. Julie Nagam (co-chair), Theresie Tungilik, Daina Warren, Krista Zawadski, Asinnajaq, Sharon Parenteau, Cathy Mattes, Jaimie Isaac and Jocelyn Piirainen.

The WAG thanks Neepeekan Hunt for creating such special blankets with love. Dakota Elders took part in the ceremony, sharing their presence and the following words of wisdom:

“The old people told us that long ago, when the world was new, we came to live on Mother Earth from the Blue Star. We are the Blue Star people. Creator made it like that. Since that time, our people have had dreams and visions about the Blue Star. At first, to respond, they drew a blue star upon a hide blanket. Later, when we began to use fabric to make blankets, the star blanket was chosen for its significance, meaning and connection to our origin. We understand these kinds of dreams and visions to be holy. When we put action behind them, good follows for the family and community. I am honoured to be here. I appreciate this centre that will show the whole world the dreams and visions of our artists.” — Grandfather Wanbdi Wakita


“What do you think of when you see a blanket? You think of warmth, protection, comfort. In our family, and in our community, when someone does a good deed, we make a beautiful star blanket like this, and we put it around them. And we do that because it’s our way of saying this is our arms around you. You are being honoured and you’re being acknowledged. And when you take the blanket home, when you use it, when your gaze rests upon it, remember this is your community putting our arms around you and wanting you to have warmth, to have comfort, and to have protection, for all your days. Thank you for the good deed that you have done, something amazing that will have an impact on hundreds and thousands of people.” — Grandmother Pahan Pte San Win


Ceremonial Leader Byron Beardy shared an Honour Song as the Circle members attending in person were wrapped in the blankets. The song resonated throughout the space, inviting in Inuit and Indigenous traditions, knowledge, perspectives and voices celebrated throughout the WAG and Qaumajuq.

It was a powerful moment in the history of the WAG to have the seven Indigenous Nations represented in ceremony, prepare Qaumajuq to open its doors, and ready the spirit of the artworks for visitors.

Credit: This video was originally published by The Winnipeg Art Gallery, March 26, 2021. COURTESY WINNIPEG ART GALLERY-QAUMAJUQ.

This story is part of the Qaumajuq Partner Spotlight. View more content from the Spotlight here.