Nebi: #WaterIsLife

Artist’s Statement

by Francine Poitras Jones

Back in 2018, the Standing Rock Sioux Water Protectors were in the midst of their struggle to stop the building of the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota. This pipeline was not only going to desecrate sacred lands, but it was going to become a danger to the waters—the very lifeline of the People. This standoff with the government was not being publicized on national news, but Indigenous People were acutely aware of what was happening. More than 300 tribes joined in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux.

During that time, the words “Water is Life” became synonymous with the movement. Of course, this was not a new concept to my people, the Abenaki. Nebi (“water” in Abenaki) has always been sacred to the People. Most Abenaki lived near the water prior to colonization. The water was necessary for gardening, cooking, staying clean, medicines, fibers, transportation, and so much more.

Because the words “Water is Life” were so prevalent in my everyday life during that time, I started thinking about how I could make a visual that would capture the essence of those words. Naturally, my first thought was a baby within its mother’s womb. So, I decided to put that image on my canvas, showing the umbilical cord. I realized that image was strong and could even be upsetting to some. However, it was my reality. From there, I decided to fill up the canvas with water and show as many water-dependent plants and animals as I could. The painting flowed from me, much like the water that sustains life. I quickly realized that I was achieving what I had hoped—to paint something that would deliver a message that would not be forgotten.

This painting is not for sale—I have donated it to the joint effort of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association to promote the sacredness of water. My hope is that it will continue to move people to do all they can to protect the water for the next Seven Generations.