Ontario’s Superior Country is proud to announce that Nipigon, Ontario, is now home to the “Copper Thunderbird” monument and panel inspired by and dedicated to Indigenous Group of Seven Artist Norval Morrisseau. Influenced by his Anishinaabe Spirit Name, Copper Thunderbird, this monument is just that, a Copper themed Thunderbird with various photos of Morrisseau printed within the wings and body, and an interpretive panel which includes information on the monumental artist.
Born John Baptist Norman Henry Morrisseau in Fort William Thunder Bay, Morrisseau spent a lot of his early childhood in Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek, or, Sand Point First Nation. There, he spent a lot of time exploring his artistic gifts within the land he grew up on by drawing different pictures within the wet sand on different beaches. While exploring his artful talents, he was also learning traditions from his grandfather such as fishing and trapping. But, when he discovered the pictographs drawn by his ancestors on the Ochre rocks, these 100-year-old drawings would become Morrisseau’s inspiration for his influential style that became so well known.
If you would like some of Morrisseau’s art, Pelletier’s Gas Bar, located on the Lake Helen Reserve just across the Nipigon River Bridge, has various souvenirs with different Morrisseau prints. An original Morrisseau piece can be found displayed in the Nipigon Public Library.
On October 19th, 2023, at the Nipigon Bridgeview Lookout, the Norval Morrisseau Monument and Panel was unveiled. Overlooking the Nipigon River, and the local pictographs much like the ones that inspired Morrisseau growing up, it is a monument to the legacy of this influential artist.
The unveiling included a small gathering of people from Morrisseau’s home community of Sand Point First Nation, as well as members from Lake Helen First Nation, members of the Township of Nipigon Council, members of Morrisseau’s family, and members of Ontario’s Superior Country. Elder of Lake Helen First Nation, Marilyn Netemegeesic, opened the unveiling with a smudging of the attendees, a welcome song, and an opening prayer. Superior Country Executive Director Dan Bevilacqua said a few words about the making of this monument and thanked the people and organizations that helped make it happen. Dan also read a statement that was provided by Joseph Sanchez, one of two surviving Ingenious Group of Seven Members. Eugene Morrisseau, Norval Morrisseau’s son, also spoke about the monument and about his father. After the unveiling, attendees were welcomed to the Edge Arts building in downtown Nipigon for snacks, coffee, and mingling.
Ontario’s Superior Country is extremely proud to have developed this monument in partnership with members of Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek First Nation and the estate of Norval Morrisseau. This initiative is a part of the North Shore Tourism Project which is dedicated to developing tourism products along the North Shore of Lake Superior. The need for a piece dedicated toward the Indigenous Group of Seven was made clear within the organization’s Group of Seven Strategy as there was no current promotion or product within the region. With Norval Morisseau being a local to the area it was quickly determined that promoting his work and influence was important not only to Superior Country but to the continued recognition of Indigenous artists.