Mount Yamnuska is a ‘prayer tower’ for Morley artist

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, March 5, 2008

Îyâ Mnathka (meaning “flat-faced rock” in the Nakoda Stoney language, but popularly written as Yamnuska and officially known as Mount John Laurie) is featured in Morley artist Roland Rollinmud’s oil-on-canvas Wazin-îchinabi (“Oneness”).

Mountain climbers call it the Yam, or Yamnuska. Officially, though, it’s called Mount John Laurie. But Morley artist Roland Rollinmud simply calls it his prayer tower.

Îyâ Mnathka – its Nakoda (Stoney) name means “flat-faced rock” and is pronounced EE-yah mnah-THKAH – stands as a sentinel along the Bow Valley at the entrance to the Rockies west of Morley.

Climbers have marked out hundreds of routes up its face. Its allure has been described in many mountaineering books.

The mountain received its official name in 1961 in honour of John Laurie (1899-1959), educator and advocate for First Nations causes.

Roland Rollinmud has a special fascination with Îyâ Mnathka. Its strength and endurance feature prominently in his just-completed 24 × 18-inch oil on canvas, Wazin-îchinabi (pronounced wah-ZEEDN een-cheed-NAH-bee). Its title means “oneness” and speaks of the harmonious relationship of all of nature when life is at its best.

About the painting Roland writes:

“All of Nature is at ‘oneness’ . . . on this peaceful late-spring morning at the western edge of my Stoney Nakoda homeland near Morley. Îyâ Mnathka, my ‘prayer tower,’ is still aglow in the rising sun, its flat, chiseled rock face, from which the mountain gets its name, mirrored in Chief Hector Lake, a timeless reminder of stability and strength. Amidst leaves sparkling in dewdrop memories, hummingbirds, ducks and a butterfly enjoy the moment; and further along the shore, smoke gently rising from a tepee signals the gratitude of a community for the Creator’s gift of yet another day.”

Roland, 58, attributes his lifetime love for “Nature’s University” to the influence of his elders, and especially his grandfather and father. He studied art at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, the University of Calgary, and the Banff School of Fine Arts. But it’s most often the subject matter itself that whispers to him about how it wants to be depicted, and Roland listens.

His reference to Îyâ Mnathka being his “prayer tower” has special significance for him at this point in the history of his people, Roland tells me.

So much is changing in his community, he says. And without a solid foundation, the young people have nothing to hold onto. Anything that would be a threat shakes them loose. They lack the stability which he’s tried to depict in this painting.

Îyâ Mnathka is a symbol of how solid our mind is supposed to be when we know God is watching over us,” he says, “something to hold onto.”

His “prayer tower” is a hope-filled reminder that “God is protecting us.”

© 2008 Warren Harbeck

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