Hannah Claus’ words that are lasting unveiled at Macdonald Hall

Montreal artist explores Indigenous relationship with law 

words that are lasting, hanging in the MacDonald Hall lobby. 
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On Friday, the law faculty unveiled artist Hannah Claus’ words that are lasting. 

The installation increased Macdonald Hall’s Indigenous representation as the building sees growing tension over its name. 

Days before a talk praising John A. Macdonald, the work was installed amid calls to remove Macdonald references from the building. 

A stone bench bearing his name was removed in July, and his portrait on the fifth floor was removed in September. The Faculty Board will see a motion this fall that would remove Macdonald’s name from the building.   

Meanwhile, Claus’ art was unveiled Friday to roughly two-dozen people in the MacDonald Hall atrium. 

Brandon Maracle, Law ’22,  began the event with a Mohawk Thanksgiving Address. He said his role as the first speaker was to give Ohenton Karihwatekwen, or, the words before all others. 

Afterward, Principal Daniel Woolf said Claus’ art symbolized a union between the University, the Kingston community, and beyond. 

Woolf said the University is changing, though it will take a continued effort. He ended his speech, saying the installation is a sign of “meaningful and lasting change.” 

Headed by Dean of Law Bill Flanagan, an art commission chose Claus’ work as the winner of an art competition to decorate the hall with Indigenous art.  

At the event, Flanagan said the idea came from a conversation with student senator and TRC Task Force member, Jason Mercredi. 

In the talk, Mercredi indicated nothing in the law building speaks to the Indigenous student experience. 

The observation resulted in a competition where artists entered pieces depicting the relationship between Indigenous peoples and law. As its winner, Claus’ work will have a permanent place in the building. 

Suspended overhead and made of stained glass, words that are lasting hangs in the building’s atrium—its floor-to-ceiling windows casting light over the piece.

The work is a representation of Wampum belts, which record agreements between nations and represent a union between people. The minimalistic artwork represents peace on a grand scale. 

At the event, Claus, who has English and Kanyenkehaka heritage and is a member of Tyendinaga-Mohawks, said the belts are all about relationships. 

Wampum belts are made out of woven patterns of white and purple beads, historically made out of round clam shells. The patterns of clams on the belts represent the laws and traditions of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. 

From the dimensions of the beads, to the lengths of sinew hanging from the end, every part of the belt is carefully crafted. Claus captured the Wampum belt’s historical and symbolic significance, using purple, blue, and white stained glass to reflect the colour of shells in actual Wampum belts.

Claus said her artwork was representative of what the tradition symbolizes. 

Upon hearing of this opportunity, she knew what she wanted to create immediately. A regular inspiration in her artwork, the belts’ historical significance in the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and their representation of unity and the power of relationships, continuously appear in her work. 

Claus’ art will hang over law students as debates over the building’s namesake continue. 

 

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