Nova Scotia

Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre unveils 'heart-wrenching' tile mural

A new art project unveiled at the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre in Halifax aims to build on Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations.

Art project strives to build on Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations

Eisan's tile, called A Tale of Two Debbies, features a self-portrait divided into two halves. (Nina Corfu/CBC)

Members of Halifax's Indigenous community unveiled a tile mural Tuesday at the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre on Gottingen Street with a message for non-Aboriginal Nova Scotians: This is what we wish you knew.

Fifty community members carved and painted their personal stories onto rectangular clay tiles, as a way to build on the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission released a final report in December 2015, documenting the history and legacy of Canada's residential school system.

Debbie Eisan, a contributor to the Halifax art project, told CBC's Information Morning the process of deciding which stories to tell was just as important as the final product.

"We want people to know that there's many, many sides to Indigenous people here in Halifax," she said, "and we don't want to be painted all with the same brush."

The mural was unveiled on the 20th anniversary of National Aboriginal Day. (Nina Corfu/CBC)

'Heart-wrenching' stories

The title of the project, This is What I Wish You Knew, is the theme that tied the whole piece together. Each tile is accompanied by a code that links to an online video of the artist telling their personal story. 

Some of those stories are traumatic, Eisan said. 

"It's heart-wrenching, but it's powerful to know that our stories are finally going to be out there."

Eisan says the process of deciding which stories to tell was just as important as the final product. (Nina Corfu/CBC)

A tale of two Debbies

At the centre of Eisan's tile, called A Tale of Two Debbies, is a self-portrait, divided into two halves. On one side, she wears the buckskin regalia of a traditional dancer, meant to represent her roots as an Ojibway woman from Northern Ontario.

On the other side she wears a Canadian Forces uniform, representative of her 36 years in the navy.

The title of the project is: This is What I Wish You Knew. (Nina Corfu/CBC)

Eisan said she wanted to show "there's two sides to every person," and to show Indigenous people "we can be very successful in our careers and our life choices but still maintain our proud Native roots."

Two tiles stand out

Two of the tiles in the display are unfinished — carved and not painted — but the community decided to display them anyway.

"It tells a story in itself," Eisan said. "We're all a work in progress, we're all human beings, and we all fight the battle of life in one form or another."

Each tile tells a personal story. (Nina Corfu/CBC)

"We wanted to honour these two individuals who were not able to complete their tile, but they were part of the process, and they're proudly displayed along with everyone else."

The mural was unveiled on the 20th anniversary of National Aboriginal Day — June 21 — a day set aside to reflect on the role Aboriginal people play in the cultural, economic and social well-being of Canada.

'It's heart-wrenching but it's powerful to know that our stories are finally going to be out there,' Eisan says. (Nina Corfu/CBC)

With files from CBC's Information Morning

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