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New casino statue unveiled

The Painted Hand Casino unveiled a new centerpiece statue outside its building's entrance on July 7.

The Painted Hand Casino unveiled a new centerpiece statue outside its building's entrance on July 7. Titled "Counting Coup," the 12-foot-tall two-piece bronze statue by Saskatchewan First Nations artist Lionel Peyachew is among the largest of its kind in the province.

As its name says, the work is a depiction of counting coup, a historical practice of First Nations warriors. In this game of skill and strategy, two warriors would attempt to touch the other with a bare hand or with a "coup stick," with the winner receiving considerable prestige. A warrior who had counted coup on the enemy would sometimes mark a handprint on his horse to signify the achievement - an image appropriate to the Painted Hand Casino.

"The concept was obvious," said the artist.

Making it a reality, however, was extremely challenging. Peyachew was one of nearly 100 artists to submit a proposal for the statue, and one of 15 finalists asked to create a detailed maquette, or scale model, of his concept. His submission, which depicts two coup stick-brandishing warriors chasing one another on horseback, was eventually chosen by Elders of the Yorkton Tribal Council.

Peyachew's work is already a familiar sight to those in Yorkton and across Canada. He was the creator of the "Doorways to Opportunity" sculpture in Shaw Park erected for Saskatchewan's centennial in 2005. He was also one of 15 aboriginal artists to have a sculpture featured at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. Currently, Peyachew is an assistant professor in the Department of Indian Fine Arts at the First Nations University of Canada.

"Counting Coup" is the first time one of Peyachew's pieces has been enlarged and immortalized in bronze. The work was done by a Santa Fe, New Mexico company based on a large-scale clay model created by the artist.

"I had to go to Santa Fe, because there was no facility that could do it here in Saskatchewan," Peyachew explained.

The clay model was dissected into 12-inch to 16-inch pieces for molding, and each piece was cast in bronze, welded together, grinded down, sandblasted, and covered with a patina.

"It was quite an undertaking to do the whole process," said the artist.

Peyachew was pleased with the final product at its unveiling in the Painted Hand Casino's parking lot last Wednesday. Public responses to the statue were positive, although some spectators commented that it should have been installed on a raised platform to make it more visible from the highway.

Dignitaries from the Painted Hand Casino and its various partners spoke at the unveiling. Elder Myles Musqua of the Keeseekoose First Nation and other Elders dedicated the statue with a leather cutting ceremony.