RHONDA SNOW is the Métis visual artist and Ojibwe Horse Knowledge Keeper who created the art that we will see in The Spirit Horse Returns on Sunday, October 30! Her vivid Woodlands style canvases captivate viewers and share the knowledge she has gained from the Elders about the “small horses of the big woods.” She is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from Rare Breeds Canada for her tireless work preserving the Ojibwe Horse breed.

“The role I have is to keep the promise I made to the little herd of Spirit Ponies. The promise is to advocate for them so they can once again have respectful relationships with people of the land who can learn from them, just like long ago when they were free. The Elders said, ‘Let them be free, if you capture them, it’s a theft of life!’ To be Spirit Ponies they need to be free (sacred is free and never sold) so they can help us decolonize ourselves. Mother Earth needs them more now than ever. It’s confusing to put it into words so I paint it. I slept among wild herds that were free and they taught to me so much. The whole process is all about gifting, receiving, replenishing and never-ending reciprocity with respect of all living things, balanced by Grandmother Moon.”  

Rhonda Snow, who paints under the name Miinogishibakwebik, about her artwork, advocacy work and The Spirit Horse Returns.
Miinogishibakwebik means the good woman who travels in the sky in the water and on the land going in circles doing good things.

Explore the Stories Behind Rhonda Snow’s Art

Rhonda has personally cared for over 60 Ojibwe Horses, playing an important role in the comeback of the breed from near-extinction. Rhonda is currently working intensively with breeders to help establish educational and equine-assisted learning programs that feature the Ojibwe Horses. She is also actively researching the history of the breed, interviewing elders and knowledge keepers to collect stories of how Indigenous peoples related to horses both before and after contact with Europeans.

The Spirit Pony

The Spirit Pony in this painting is a symbol of the trail that was not lost but hidden by colonization. What was not documented in history books was how the tiny, strong-willed ponies had an important story to tell. It just took time to seek and circle to find the trail of these “Little Ponies with the Big Spirits” that were almost lost.

By collecting stories related to native ponies both before and after European contact, many generations can enjoy the stories forever.

This Spirit Pony travels again in a circle to tell the truth in traditional storytelling ways through art. The circle around this Spirit Pony is how knowledge was protected for the next generations.

– Rhonda Snow

Native Ponies on Turtle Island

The history books do not tell the truth about how the Native Ponies lived alongside all living things before European contact.

– Rhonda Snow

The Heist Across the Ice by the Light of the Moon

This painting is about Fred Ishams, Wally Olsen, Walter Saatela and Omar Hides as they trailered the last four native ponies from NWO across the ice to Minnesota. Fred knew they were spiritual even though he was told they were mustangs.

Rhonda Snow

The Small Spanish Mustang jumped over Thunder Mountain to Save the Breed

After traveling across the ice by the light of the moon, the three last mares arrived in Minnesota. With such excitement of so many people, the event was featured in newspapers. The headline read: “Rare Spanish mustangs found on the island of Canada.” The Spanish registers came to inspect them right away and within 15 minutes they knew they weren’t Spanish mustangs.

The men that rescued them continued with the same plan to breed them with a small Spanish Mustang named Smokey.

One man took two of the smaller mares to a nearby village where they remained for decades and, as a small herd, they retained the original characteristics. Another man kept the last mare at a loggers’ place and had many foals also.

– Rhonda Snow

See Rhonda Snow’s Woodlands-style paintings in The Spirit Horse Returns on October 30 at 3pm, and be sure to visit her art exhibit on the mezzanine at FirstOntario Concert Hall before the performance begins.