The Mermaid (1968) – Mother Earth )1969) Norval Morrisseau

The Merman
Norval Morrisseau
Gouache on paper – 78” x 32” – 1968
“This is where your importance comes in” he explained: “The more you can express in your writing and painting the strongest and oldest Indian beliefs the more likely it is that they will be picked up by the non-Indians and become a part of our Canadian Heritage. But if, in your honest attempt to build a bridge between your people and other Canadians you say – as your mermaid painting with the breasts says – “Look our beliefs are just like yours” – you will only convince the non-Indian that the Ojibway people have little that is new, or strong, or different, to offer the rest of the World”.

Selwyn Dewdney
1961 – prior to Morrisseau’s breakout show.

Mother Earth
Norval Morrisseau
Gouache on cardboard, 32” x 55”, 1969

One day maybe if there’s another Centennial I wouldn’t like the white man to say he can trace himself right back to the cave days, but what’s the Indian got, nothing! They’re going to say what the white man writes about him. It’s not good. Even if they never mention my name, you can’t stop progress. I laid the first cornerstone already, whether I’m a drunkard or not, sober or whatever kind of person I am. I led that thing. That’s for the betterment of our people in the future, not today.

Norval Morrisseau
1967 – Speaking about Expo 67 and his massive mural on the Indians of Canada pavilion. Norval asked Carl Ray to finish it because the Canadian government interfered, nixing the breasts on Mother Earth, resulting in headlines across Canada which read, “Pavilion Rebukes White Man, Indians’ Theme Angers Expo Visitors”.

What was with Dewdney and the Canadian Government? Does modern society have a conflict with sexuality and spirituality? Norval thought we had been indoctrinated into powerlessness. I have never viewed a “Norval” Morrisseau painting that I consider profane, have you? From my perspective Norval set a courageous example with both his life and his work. The two streams of energy are not in conflict, except in the mind of man. Quite the opposite, in fact.

I’m proud of Norval for listening to the fearmongers and then “not” doing what they asked.