Edmonton arts project promoting reconciliation honoured by Governor General

A project promoting reconciliation in Edmonton is being honoured on a national level through a Governor General history award.

‘We’re seen as leaders across the country’

'Edmontonians of 1884' pictures three leaders of the day, Chief Ermineskin, right, Mayor Matthew McCauley, centre, and North West Mounted Police Corp. Shaw. (Supplied)

A reconciliation project that includes some of the earliest known photos of Edmontonians is being recognized with a prestigious national award.

The poetry and art project, titled Reconciling Edmonton, garnered an honourable mention at the Governor General's history awards.

"Across the country, people are paying attention to what is happening in Edmonton," said Miranda Jimmy, who worked on the collaboration with three other people.

The project used seven historic photographs, including one dating back to 1884, to showcase reconciliation from the signing of Treaty 6 to the present day.

The black-and-white images were then transformed into a series of striking paintings,each accompanied by poetry.

"It doesn't have to be an institution like an archive or a museum that tells our history, it can be anyone," said Jimmy, who has dedicated herself to promoting reconciliation.

Jimmy is an Indigenous woman who attributes some of the tough times in her life to the experience of family members who suffered in residential schools.

Funded through a grant from the Edmonton Heritage Council, Reconciling Edmonton launched a year ago with what organizers believe was the first-ever round dance inside Edmonton City Hall.

Miranda Jimmy, left, and Jennie Vegt are two members of the team that worked on the project. (Peter Evans CBC News)

Jennie Vegt, the city's former artist in residence, was inspired by the original photos, and painted them large scale, adding splashes of colour in her own style.

"When people look at black-and-white images, I feel like sometimes they can glaze over them," Vegt said. "And that's where a painting can be kind of exciting, because painting makes people look at an image a little bit longer, and that was my goal with these images."

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission opened her eyes, she said, to a part of history she knew little about.

To open up the project to Edmontonians, the team behind it shared the images on social media to get people's reactions.

Those thoughts and reflections were then used to create the poetry to accompany the paintings.

The poetry was created by Anna Marie Sewell, the city's former poet laureate, and Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail, Edmonton's former historian laureate, using some of the words used by those who responded to the campaign.

Sewell, of Mi'kmaq, Anishinabe and Polish heritage, said the idea to include the public was a refreshing one that gave a strong storytelling base to build from.

The team's approach was to look at reconciliation from a different perspective than the atrocities revealed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"We were just looking for ways where we could say all along we have had moments when we could have seen things differently, and that we are here because of treaties of peace and friendship," said Sewell.

The project is on display at the University of Alberta H.T. Coutts Library until Dec. 23 and is open to the public.

"Hopefully it inspires other people across the country to tell and document our history in new ways," said Jimmy, who is still hoping to find other venues to display the work after its run at the university.

Reconciling Edmonton competed with dozens of other projects from across the country. Jimmy will travel to Ottawa for the awards ceremony on Monday, Nov. 28.