Indigenous Perceptions of Nature

miniature wampum belt
Ken Maracle, Iroquois Confederacy (Five Nations), n.d., beads and waxed thread, SLU 2004.30

August 10 - September 3, 2022

Indigenous Perceptions of Nature features three bodies of work that were acquired for St. Lawrence University’s permanent collection: works on paper, traditional sweetgrass baskets, and miniature wampum belts by regional Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) artists; Canadian Inuit prints and drawings; and work by Peruvian mestizo artist Pablo Amaringo (1938-2009), whose gouache paintings incorporate traditional knowledge of psychotropic plants held sacred by a variety of Amazonian indigenous groups. 

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy, or “people of the long house,” is “made up of Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas intended as a way to unite the nations and create a peaceful means of decision making. Through the confederacy, each of the nations of the Haudenosaunee are united by a common goal to live in harmony…. Often described as the oldest participatory democracy on Earth, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy’s constitution is believed to be a model for the American Constitution. What makes it stand out as unique to other systems around the world is its blending of law and values. For the Haudenosaunee, law, society, and nature are equal partners and each plays an important role.”[1] “Continuous enactment of peace is essential to the principle of the … Haudenosaunee philosophy, which is the peaceful sharing with equanimity and moderation of resources of the natural world.”[2]          

print of animals and human figures
Kenojuak Ashevak, Guardians of the Owl, 1991, stonecut with stencil, 17/50, SLU 93.40

The Canadian Inuit art collection at St. Lawrence University includes more than 125 original prints, drawings, photographs, and carvings from Cape Dorset, Pangnirtung, and Baker Lake. Inuit art holds a particular attraction for a university teaching collection as it offers many disciplines a starting point for discussions on nature and the environment, traditional stories, spirituality, social and political commentary, aesthetics, and design. Inuit artists often depict the power and beauty of the natural world, as well as town and camp life, traditional Inuit stories and mythic creatures, and, more recently, influences from the south.  Living in such a harsh environment, these artists pay close attention to and respect the forces of nature, but their work also illustrates at times a certain lyricism in the portrayal of humans and animals with their surroundings.

Human existence depends on an archaic revival of animism in a contemporary world threatened by climate emergency. Pablo Amaringo’s works in this exhibition are cognitive tools that reveal the multitude of spirits populating the natural world and enable humanity to perceive a non-anthropocentric reality. They contain narratives with an urgent need to be heard. These blueprints of thought linking humanity to the mind of plants facilitate a plan for survival whereby all species, rivers and mountains should be considered to possess rights that need to be defined, respected and protected. As Luis Eduardo Luna and Steven F. White point out in a preface to a new edition of Ayahuasca Reader, “The states of consciousness elicited by such plants surely would have contributed to animistic ideas among members of Amerindian societies by means of which intelligence is extended to plants, animal and the whole of nature, as well as to an understanding of the role of humans as guardians of the natural world.”

painting of snakes
Pablo Amaringo, The Three Powers, 1986, gouache on paper, SLU 2002.14

https://www.haudenosauneeconfederacy.com/who-we-are/. Accessed 2 Mar 2022.
https://www.ethnobiology.net/principles-practices-haudenosaunee-environmental-knowledge/. Accessed 2 Mar 2022.