Mariel Belanger spent more than 800 hours constructing a traditional tule mat lodge, which spent the summer in the outdoor courtyard of the Kelowna Art Gallery. At an Okanagan College workshop in Vernon on Thursday, she explained the significance the mat lodge held and the process behind its creation.
The Vernon-based Sqilxw artist’s installation was entitled tukʷtniɬxʷ – or Moon Lodge, which are traditional Indigenous structures for women during their menstrual cycles.
“We have this innate responsibility to our bodies that connects us to the land and that’s our menstruation cycle, and our very first homes as menstruating people were in this type of structure,” Belanger said to a small audience at the college.
Constructing the lodge required painstaking work, but for Belanger, giving it up to the gallery was perhaps even more painful.
“This took me about 800 hours to build, and I sacrificed it to an art gallery – my god, that killed me!” she said, explaining that the structure couldn’t withstand the three months of weather exposure in the gallery courtyard.
“Three months in the worst summer for rain in 20 years… but she was sacrificed for a very significant reason.”
The reason, she says, is visibility. The exhibit received international recognition, meaning its message of the value of traditional tule moon lodges was spread far and wide. It’s a message that Belanger doesn’t take lightly.
“This is an important architectural aspect to our own self-governance,” she said.
Belanger has since produced another lodge at O’Keefe Ranch, which she calls a sculpture rather than a functioning tipi. It’s constructed out of boughs of fur and carries the message, “waste not, want not.”
“What I’m looking at here is using everything, wasting nothing,” she said, gesturing to an image of the sculpture.
The workshop started off with the story behind Belanger’s decision to create the tule lodge – a story that included a troublesome marriage, a near-fatal car crash and her admittance into a psychiatric ward.
“All the things that happened to me in this space made me realize that there is a story that I have been following through my DNA, through my existence – things that have come to me in whatever way the universe decides.”
Closing out the workshop, Belanger gave demonstrations of how she weaved the tule reeds together after harvesting them locally at Otter Lake and then drying them out. She then instructed participants on how to make their own tule mat mini-tipi.
“Weaving is a technique, it’s a skill acquisition, it’s something that you can be proud of,” she said.