A new large scale mural honouring the lives of those who attended residential schools is going up in Selkirk, a small city north of Winnipeg.
Mashkawigaabawid Abinoojiiyag or Stand Strong Children has been a months long project bringing together Elders, artists and students to create the large piece, which stands nearly four metres high and is 50 metres long.
“Something this important deserves that big of a canvas,” mural designer Jordan Stranger told APTN News.
Stranger, who is from Peguis First Nation, worked with Elders to bring the final design of the piece to life.
Stranger said the size of the project allowed him to tell a full story but he added it needed to be simple.
He uses well-recognized images such as an eagle, teepees, crosses, the Sabe and the sun to paint a picture of Indigenous Peoples beginning at pre-contact to present day.
There are four panels and each one shows a different era but they are brought together by one main element.
“Throughout that whole design I needed it to be held by something. The idea of prayer so that’s why there’s this big tobacco tie cloth flowing through the entire design and as it goes through the dark times it gets all tattered and ripped up but then it gets back to whole,” explained Stranger.
Ernie Daniels, a residential school survivor from Long Plain First Nation, is one of the Elders who contributed to the project.
He shared his experiences and emotions as a survivor during four engagement sessions with the team.
“I think they captured the essence of the message, for me, which is survival, resilience and hope,” said Daniels.
The project was lead by Jeannie Red Eagle, a Sixties Scoop adoptee from Rolling River First Nation. The emerging artist has lived in Selkirk for years, and has spent this time spearheading other projects in the small city, including a medicine garden.
She said art can be a way to pay respect to the history of Indigenous Peoples – both good and bad.
“It’s important that we as Indigenous people understand the significance of our history so that we can go forward in a really good way. And, so that we can help heal together with each other, with our community, with our families but also within our non-Indigenous community,” said Red Eagle.
The project brought together Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, as well as youth.
Sierrah Anderson spent the last two months lending her hand.
“For me it’s been all about learning and getting to learn about those teachings and the things that I missed out on growing up. The things that have been forgotten in my family. As well as the path to healing through creating something so beautiful out of something so terrible,” said Anderson.
The piece is supported by Canadian Heritage to commemorate the history and legacy of the residential school system, and by the Manitoba Arts Council. The Interlake Art Board submitted the application and received the funding. In the process they created partnerships with Promoting Aboriginal Student Success and Anishinaabe Gikinoo’amaagoowinan- The People’s Teachings to undertake the project.
The piece will be put on display sometime this summer.