Nova Scotia·Video

How a brick wall in downtown Sydney became an example of reconciliation

Artists Loretta Gould and Peter Steele were commissioned to create a mural that would help start conversations about reconciliation.

Artists Loretta Gould and Peter Steele were commissioned to create the reconciliation mural

Artists Loretta Gould and Peter Steele worked on the project intermittently from July into the fall. (Nelson MacDonald and Charles Paul for CBC)

A new mural in downtown Sydney is turning heads, starting conversations and showing the art of reconciliation. 

"When people say reconciliation it always just brings back them trying to apologize, and I don't think that's what it means," said artist Loretta Gould from We'koqma'q First Nation. "Reconciliation's more for people to share in what's going on. And two individuals getting together and just sharing.

"And I think that's what this mural is about." 

Video produced by Nelson MacDonald and Charles Paul for CBC. 

Reconciliation in action 

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality Downtown Regeneration Committee put out a call for artist applications for a reconciliation mural. The committee was looking for a Mi'kmaw artist and an artist from another cultural background to work together on the mural. 

Gould was chosen, along with Sydney artist Peter Steele. They worked on it intermittently from the summer into the fall. 

Creators Nelson MacDonald and Charles Paul on a Creator Network shoot in Sydney, Nova Scotia. (Natalie Dobbin/CBC)

Steele said the project originated with the effects of the residential school system and the way systemic racism has affected families through generations. 

"I also got to realize that there's a lot more than just that residential school system that we need to reconcile," said Steele. 

That includes the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women across the county, including in Cape Breton, he said.

Artist Peter Steele has gained a deeper understanding of reconciliation through his work on the project. (Natalie Dobbin/CBC)

'Learning from two perspectives' 

Nadine Bernard pushed for this reconciliation project, brainstormed with the artists and helped with painting. She was a part of the regeneration committee and owns the consulting company Indigevisor. 

She said the wall was a blank slate, which is how relationships start. 

"You don't know what you're faced with … and then as the relationship builds you add characters, you add colour, you add a story to it," said Bernard. "And that's exactly what it was, was building a relationship with the community that got brought out into a visual piece." 

The mural is themed around Etuaptmumk, a word that means "two-eyed seeing" in the Mi'kmaq language. 

Bernard said the phrase came from Mi'kmaq elders Albert Marshall and the late Murdena Marshall from Eskasoni First Nation. 

Nadine Bernard pushed for the project and helped out on the ground. (Natalie Dobbin/CBC)

"They stressed on the understanding of … learning from two perspectives. From the non-Indigenous perspective and the Indigenous." 

Those ideas are intertwined, she said. 

There are elements such as red dresses to symbolize murdered and missing Indigenous women, and the seven sacred teachings written in Mi'kmaw, English and French. They include truth, humility, love, respect, wisdom, courage and honesty. 

The woman with the smudge bowl "is carrying the message of healing throughout the community," Bernard said. 

"And then the multigenerational, the Indigenous and non-Indigenous adults and then the youth who are speaking to one another and having that conversation intergenerationally is important for change." 

Location, location, location 

The mural is located on Prince Street, on the outside wall of the Undercurrent Youth Centre and the Pathways to Employment office.

The location was chosen very deliberately. 

It's a high-traffic area, one of the main roads in the downtown. Lots of people stopped them to ask questions, Bernard said. 

The space itself is very integrated in the community, as it's owned by the social enterprise New Dawn. 

It's also across the street from the popular Doktor Luke's coffee shop. 

"It was a great place for people to start the conversation and say, 'What does that mean? Why is it there?' And start to really be reminded they're on Miꞌkmaꞌki territory," said Bernard. 

She said there's no other reminder of Mi'kmaq culture in the downtown core. 

The curve in the wall also reminds Bernard of the turn of a page in a book. 

That turning of a page, and working on relationships, is what Bernard hopes to see moving forward. 

The mural project was funded by the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and Nova Scotia Communities, Culture and Heritage. The Sydney Downtown Development Association was also involved. (Natalie Dobbin/CBC)

"Changing the narrative, changing the conversation and the next part of the story of reconciliation is all reflected in … the whole choice of picking that, that property," said Bernard.