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Wolastoqiyik art show honors a forgotten people

Maliseet Tribal Elder Danny Nicolas (right) was an early fan of Ginette Kakakos Aubin’s (left) art, and he was instrumental in bringing her work across the international border to the Acadian Archives/ Archives acadiennes. The opening reception occurred Thursday, Nov. 9 at the Acadian Archives Gallery Room on the University of Maine at Fort Kent campus. The exhibition will run through Wednesday, April 4, 2018. (Andrew Birden | SJVT/FhF)

FORT KENT, Maine — A Maliseet artist exhibiting her work at the University of Maine at Fort Kent Acadian Archives/Archives acadiennes was inspired by her cultural identity to create the art.

Ginette Kakakos Aubin named her exhibit “Kekkom” which in Maliseet means “she travels all day.”  

“It is a reflection of Aubin’s journey of self-discovery as a member of the Maliseet tribe or the Wolastoqiyik (people of the St. John River),” said Acadian Archives/Archives acadiennes director Lise Pelletier.  

“For me it’s very important to express that I don’t want anybody forgetting the Maliseet of Quebec anymore. We have been forgotten for 118 years,” Aubin said at a wine and cheese mixer to celebrate the exhibit’s opening on Thursday, Nov. 9. “When I paint, I paint the historical fragments; every piece of art tells something from the story of my Nation.”

Danny Nicolas of Fort Kent, a Maliseet of the nation of Viger, introduced Pelletier to Aubin’s artwork, which at the time was being featured in an exhibit at the Art Center in Edmundston.

The Maliseet and the Acadians share a history

This is an example of one of many art pieces that Maliseet Artist Ginette Kakakos Aubin is showing at the Acadian Archives/ Archives acadiennes through April of 2018. Kakakos calls this piece “Back to Riviere Du Loup.” (Andrew Birden | SJVT/FhF)

“The Wolastoqiyik lived in the Madawaska territory when the Acadians first came in 1785. There were about 60 families still living in this area. This tribe is a ‘cousin’ of the Mi’kmaq, whose help was invaluable to the French who first came to Acadia in the 1500’s and 1600’s. They were their trading partners, their teachers, their allies, and in some cases, relatives,” Pelletier said.

“The upper St. John River valley, in New Brunswick, Maine, and Québec, is situated in their territory, which used to cover 20 million acres, 200 miles wide, and 600 miles the length of the St. John River watershed,” she said. “If those sixty families had not allowed the French Acadians and Québécois to settle within their hunting, fishing, and living grounds, we, their descendants, would not be here today.”

David Hobbins, a guest at the mixer said he does not have a background in art, but appreciated the visual appeal of Aubin’s work.

“I love when artists aren’t afraid to use color,” he said.

“It all comes from my heart, those colors. I’m a colorful woman,” Aubin said. “When I paint, I don’t have to think, ‘Oh, I’ll paint something red. I go with my instinct at the moment.”

Lise Pelletier, director of the Acadian Archives/ Archives acadiennes, addresses a packed room as she introduces Maliseet Artist Ginette Kakakos Aubin and her exhibition “Kekkom/Wolastoqiyik/Nomad: She travels in the territory.” The Acadians maintained strong and peaceful relations with the First Nations of North America. Maliseet Tribal Elder Danny Nicolas, a key participant in bringing the exhibition to Northern Maine, sits beside Kakakos. (Andrew Birden | SJVT/FhF)

Hobbins especially enjoyed an acrylic painting, “Back to Riviere Du Loup,” which depicts a moose overlooking Quebec City. The magnificent animal is central to many of Aubin’s works.

“The moose is very important in our nation. The moose is the guardian of the territory, a symbol of courage and perseverance,” Aubin said.

Other works of art in the exhibit include depictions of Aubin’s ancestors, including her father, Jean-Marie Aubin, and grandfather, Francois-Xavier, who gave her the name Kakakos, or “crow” when she was a young girl.

“The Acadian Archives/Archives acadiennes is pleased to honor the Wolastiqiyik or Maliseet tribe by displaying the works of one of their people,” Pelletier said. “We must take every opportunity to reconnect with the original owners and dwellers of this land, and to make their history known.”

Visitors are welcome to view the exhibit every day from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., during weekdays, until April 4, 2018.

For more information, contact Lise Pelletier at lise.m.pelletier@maine.edu or  207-834-7536.

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