“Our water today is the same water our ancestors drank from—it's the same water they took care of just enough to leave for us. With this in mind, it’s necessary to also consider how we leave the things we were given,” artist Moira Villard shared in an interview with Arts Help. It’s a reality that poses the question of future well-being and forces one to wonder if enough has been done to ensure the safety and prosperity of future generations.
Villard is a multidisciplinary artist who grew up on the Fond du Lac Reservation in Cloquet, Minnesota. She considers herself an artist “with a mixed Indigenous and settler heritage who uses art to uplift underrepresented narratives, explore the nuance of society’s historical community intersections, and promote community healing spaces,” she shared during the interview.
The Mahnomen illustrations by Villard are of grave significance and align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of aimed to improve and sustain Life on Land. According to the seven prophecies of the Anishinaabe people, they were meant to travel West until they found a turtle-shaped land and waters that were so fresh that food could grow on it. Mahnomen, also known as wild rice, is food that grows on water and has become a significant part of the Anishinaabe people.
The title given to the collection of illustrations by Villard is symbolic, and they educate as well as remind the viewers of the Anishinaabe roots and journey of life. The illustrations are especially important in the cause of protecting, restoring and promoting sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably managing forests, combating desertification, and halting and reversing land degradation to halt biodiversity loss. The illustrations highlight how the world has come to a stage where mankind is destroying Mother Nature for its own selfish needs and wants.
According to Villard, “In the later prophecies, we see predictions of separation from culture and the loss of our life ways…The path of destruction is heavily rooted in humanity turning its back on Mother Nature. The path of healing relies on returning to old ways and relationship with the land.” Villard strongly believes that the current state of the world, which consists of destruction, pain, hatred and agony was all predicted in the seven prophecies of the Anishinaabe traditional beliefs. Moreover, people were warned of the world coming to such a stage in life.
To ensure that humans can prosper on earth and create a safe environment for future generations, immediate disciplinary actions should be taken at all costs. Villard’s illustrations focus on educating and raising awareness of how precious land and water are for the well-being of humans.
“The pieces I created are an attempt at illustrating the connection between our prophecies as Anishinaabe people around the state of the world with the actual outcomes of our intersecting histories as cultures on Turtle Island. I think Indigenous people and teachings have answers to issues in not just Indigenous communities, but for the world at large,” Villard shared with Arts Help.
Villard also pays a lot of attention to the process behind producing consumer goods and products that humans mindlessly aim to consume. She wants to emphasize the lack of knowledge that consumers have as to how commodities are produced and the extent to which this production leads to the destruction of natural land. “We rarely know (let alone think about) where our food and resources come from - we just purchase them, use them, and often waste them. If people knew more or had more experience connecting with supply chains, we would see less extraction,” expressed Villard.
Villard’s illustrations are deeply rooted in exploring the stages of how humans tend to harm the earth. She is drawn to the idea of not only creating thought-provoking art but also educating people on matters that are important to her and vital to the prosperity of the world. In her illustration titled Factors, she explores the damage that sulfate which once transformed into sulfide can become toxic to wild rice. This paints the bigger picture of how pollution and mindless consumerism contribute to issues the world faces like climate change and endangered species on land and underwater.
“It’s easy to feel hopelessness towards the state of the world. But in hopelessness, sometimes there’s an attitude of ‘nothing to lose.’ There’s a point beyond that which I feel like I’ve reached, where I just want to make sure all the work I create either alleviates pain to bring about healing or brings attention to the unnecessary struggle,” she said. There is a definite lesson to be learned by Villard as she immaculately describes the condition of humans as they can see the damage that has been caused to the world because of their ways of living, but are also so accustomed to this way of living that somehow they feel lost as to how they can contribute through individual efforts to try and rectify this state of destruction.
Villard’s words stimulate action and urge a sense of emergency that should be shared by everyone, “Our water today is the water of tomorrow and the next day, and the next. It is the water our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will enjoy for play, for sustenance, for prayer, and more, and so it’s necessary to leave it better than we found it.”