HOPE AND LOVE BEYOND THE 94:
A JOURNEY OF RECONCILIATION
“The healing is happening-the reconciliation…I feel that there is some hope for us not as Canadians, but for the world, because I know I’m not the only one. I know that Anishinaabe people across Canada, First Nations, are not the only ones. My brothers and sisters in New Zealand, Australia, Ireland…I don’t see it happening in a year, but we can start making changes to laws and to education systems…so that we can move forward.”
Alma Mann Scott, survivor
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission spent five years travelling across Canada and listening to residential school survivors. The 94 Calls to Action was a document created in response to hearing the stories of indigenous Canadians from coast to coast.
I have a clear memory of watching the Reconciliation Pole installed on the UBC campus in the spring of 2017. I knew I wanted to create an opportunity to explore the topic of reconciliation with my art class. The TRC mandate describes reconciliation as “an ongoing individual and collective process, and will require commitment from all those affected including First Nations, Inuit and Métis former Indian Residential School (irs) students, their families, communities, religious entities, former school employees, government and the people of Canada. Reconciliation may occur between any of the above groups.” The topic of Reconciliation needs as many voices behind as possible if we are to move forward as a nation. I began to develop this unit in February 2018. Exactly almost one calendar year later, the first leg of the journey is complete. During that year of development I communicated with my indigenous colleagues regularly, received extensive training in silk screening, educated myself on the 94 calls to action, visited and contributed to The Project of Heart Canoe: Speaking to Memory Exhibit with my Art 11/12 class and attended a professional development workshop/art installation on indigenous education and justice.
In January of 2019 my Art 11/12 class took their response to The Project Love Canoe one step further. We explored the design elements of Salish Weave and then, working in groups of 4-5, the students were asked to create a collaborative composition that reflected the language of the TRC report. The theme of Reconciliation served as the thread that wove through our compositions as inspiration and connection. Embodying the spirit of reconciliation, each group was tasked with exploring one of the 5 main legacy topics: Child Welfare, Education, Language and Culture, Health, and Justice. Where possible a student with indigenous heritage was encouraged to be the leader of a group. Their collaborative design was to reflect the Salish Weave design elements but not to use them in their pure form. Our focus was on cultural appreciation not cultural appropriation.
Through a district indigenous education grant and an ARTSTART grant I was able to purchase the equipment necessary to create a silk screen lab in my art room. Then, working with local print maker Andy MacDougall (Wachiay Friendship Centre) we were able to teach the students the skills required to silk screen their compositions as posters. While each group designed an individual composition that reflected their group’s topic, the 5 compositions also had to be connected through compositional elements so that the entire series worked together as a whole. The art was to represent a visual metaphorical community of children.
While we have created beautiful collaborative art as a product of this experience, never has the focus on the process of art’s creation been more important. Reconciliation was our inspiration. Reconciliation is our journey. Moving forward we must remember this art is just a snapshot of where we are today. Through mutual respect and communication our relationships with each other in this nation will be continuously changing and moving forward . Art that will be created in response to the reconciliation journey will be a fluid and dynamic creative landscape that reflects where we are at a given point in time. We have much more to learn and many more compositions to develop. Our step towards reconciliation through art is just a starting point for future art and conversations to come.
“It’s not going to be fast, and it’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be rich and uplifting for us all.”
Social Justice Advocate
Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner
The Word –
In order to have the work embody the concept of a visual community we needed a strong element to bridge the connection between compositions. After speaking regularly with our Indigenous Education Support Worker, Josie Andrew, we decided to investigate the possibility of finding the K’omoks word for hope or love. While the language is almost extinct, with the help of Nicole Rempel (Elected chief K’omoks First nation) we were able to find a translation and settled on ǰɛqaǰɛ; K’omoks for “to hope”. The word is seen at the base of each print.
Each of the 5 compositions is framed in a bright colourful stylized torso and head. These compositional frames serve not only to support the work of the students but to honour the loving spirits of the children whose lives were changed forever by residential schools.
Language and Culture
The students felt that a bee was an excellent symbol for community and connection. Bees are social insects that rely heavily on communication in order for their hives to be successful. Much like our bees, many of our indigenous languages are on the edge of extinction. Through careful support and space, both have the ability to grow and come back.
The students wanted to ensure that there would be a negative space component in this composition that reflected the shape of an open heart to represent the growth, love and nurturing required for child welfare to thrive. Their fantasy creature is meant to be strong but also playful to reflect the lives of the children that survived.
The owl symbolizes wisdom and learning. However, when you look within the owl you see a bird within a bird that is protecting 5 canoes on a journey to reconciliation. Each canoe represents one of the 5 legacy threads examined in the series.
The scales of justice in this composition reflect the inequities in the distribution of power for indigenous voices. The forms in this composition can be seen clearly trying to tip the scales back and provide a more balanced legal system for our indigenous Canadians.
The students chose the sun to represent renewal and hope for the future. In the centre of this composition there are two hands holding a heart to symbolize , connections and mutual support for one another during the reconciliation and healing process.