Sandy Lake called Christian’s name. He was learning and finding joy painting with his father Norval Morriseau, but he was concerned for his mother’s health. He headed back to Sandy Lake to be with his mother Harriet.
It was during this journey that Christian met his wife, Lorene.
Opportunities were scarce in Sandy Hook. Christian decided to make the ski-doo trip to nearby Keewaywin, ON. He befriended a man at the Hudson’s Bay Company that offered to give Christian a ride. The man said he needed to stop at his father’s home on a nearby island before Keewaywin. After riding on the back of the sled for over an hour the pair arrived at the island. Christian sat outside while the man carried groceries and supplies into his father’s home. Afterwards Christian joined the family for some tea inside. That was when he first saw Lorene, his future wife. He was warming himself at the home’s woodstove.
“The first time I’d ever seen my wife she was in the other room there,” remembered Christian. “I liked her right away, I didn’t say nothing. I got warm and drank my cup of tea and we took off to Keewaywin and dropped me off.”
Christian stayed in Keewaywin for the rest of the winter and was ready to move on when the ice melted that year. He went back to Sandy Lake and ran into Lorene’s mother. He asked the woman if he could marry her daughter. Without any hesitation, the mother agreed. Within a year Christian and Lorene had their first child, a boy who they named him Kyle.
While walking from his grandfather’s home on the other side of the Sandy Lake reservation a big white van stopped in front of Christian. He immediately saw his wife in the passenger’s seats holding Kyle. He was all wrapped up in a blanket. Christian opened the van and sat down with his new son. He looked at him for the first time.
“You’re mine. You are me,” Christian said to his baby. “I’m going to teach you everything; I’m not going to do what has been done to me. I’m going to stop it. “
The new family decided to get out of Sandy Lake and head back to Keewaywin. It seemed like a better place to raise Kyle and any future children the couple may have. Things were good; another baby joined the family, he was named Josh. The family lived in a small cabin on the shoreline of Keewaywin.
Christian wanted to teach his sons everything that he could; how to hunt, paint, about the stories and legends of their people. He wanted to teach them while they were young and more eager to learn. The young children soaked up the knowledge given to them by their father.
Like his father before him, Christian felt his ancestors calling for him. They told him to continue his work painting with Norval. He first went to Kenora to deal with his alcoholism, a disease that had troubled him since his youth and was now destroying his life.
One day Christian was walking from the detox centre, he stopped and looked up at the large 40 foot tall Husky the Muskie, a famous Kenora landmark. The giant fish made him stop and reflect on his life.
He started to think about how he may have lost his family, children, job and everything he cared about. While feeling down and low he imagined what things would have been like if had just stayed with his father years ago and painted with him. He thought that he would have had something, had a life that he and his family would be proud of.
Christian pulled out some tobacco and offered to the giant Muskie and said a prayer.
“Grandfather, if you can ever give me another chance to learn, to listen and to understand what my father’s trying to teach me I won’t waste my time,” prayed Christian. “I put the tobacco in the river (next to the Muskie) and I walked away.”
Things changed quickly for the better. Christian moved back with family and his father wanted him to visit. Before long, Norval was living in Keewaywin with Christian and his family. Inspired by the grandfathers answering his prayer in front of the Muskie, Christian knew it was time to learn the teachings of his father. This was for Christian, this was his time.
In the past, Christian had only painted backgrounds for his father’s art. That was until one day when Norval handed Christian a piece of canvas and a pencil and told him to draw something. Wanting to please his father, he accepted.
Christian focused. He tried hard to draw something that his father would like. Norval told his son to stop and to hand him the paper and pencil.
“You were the one pulling the pencil and it was you that was creating that image,” said Norval. “But if you do it this way (holding the pencil lightly and slightly off the paper) then you know that it’s the spiritual grandfathers that are giving you that image.”
He explained that Christian should let the lead of the pencil guide itself and create the image. The artist should not be in control of the image, the image should, in fact, be in charge of the artist.
Christian took his father’s teachings and started to make his own art. After finishing his first painting Christian told his wife that he didn’t know how he should sign his name. Lorene asked her mother and she was given a symbol which meant Christian. It’s the signature he’s used ever since.
During this time that Christian went to a nearby sweat lodge to find out his native name. The spiritual name he was given translates to ‘one that sits with sacred gifts and items’. Initially, Christian felt down, he wanted a powerful name. The elder told him not to be upset, that his name was just as powerful as any.
“My father always told me, that when we come from the spiritual world the grandfathers know who we are, they know who we’re going to be, they know what our purpose is and they know when we’re to come back again,” explained Christian .
The elders call this destiny the Red Road. Every person must fulfil their unique journey and stay on the road.
“It’s not an easy road to be on,” said Christian. “The way I sketch, to tell or explain any of the legends and teachings. It is in my own way.”
Norval faced a similar hard path years ago. His elders felt his art was sacred and they felt that it shouldn’t be shared with people outside the community. Norval faced a spiritual taboo against showing his artwork. It was after the spiritual grandfathers came to him and told him to show his art and to tell his people’s stories to the world that he did so. His faith in the grandfathers removed any doubts cast by the taboo and shunning by the elders.
Christian relies on the same faith for his art. His art is more than paintings, they are spiritual scrolls. The images come from where his people come from. They come from the spiritual world, from the grandfathers. In the mortal world the images appear still, in the spiritual world they move like a movie.
“Basically, once I put the pencil to the canvas and let it go that’s when I begin to see what’s coming out. As I begin to sketch it and look at it I begin to realize the stories and the legends. Sometimes I think it’s going to be this or be that, but it’s not always up to me what’s actually going to be coming out of me.”
The Red Road has been hard for Christian over the last few years. He has lost his father and Kyle, his eldest son. He takes comfort in the fact that they can see his art is full effect in the spirit world.
When Christian got his native name he was also to get his colours. He found it strange; the conductor of the ceremony didn’t give him any. He was told that all colours belong to him, too many to name.
“All the colours are mine,” described Christian. “All the colours I’m supposed to use to help me transition to a better life or for someone else’s life. To help them in whatever way these colours can do.”
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