Native Council of P.E.I. honours elders in new gallery

A new gallery honouring elders from the local Indigenous community is now on display at the organization's offices.

'I see resilience and I see strength'

Three people look at a wall filled with black and white portraits of elders from the community
The new gallery is "about our history," says Lisa Cooper, the chief and president of the Native Council of P.E.I. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News)

To some, a new gallery at the Native Council of P.E.I. might appear to be just that: A gallery.

Black and white portraits hang on a wall, capturing the likeness of elders from the local Indigenous community.

But to many, these are so much more than photographs.

"I see resilience and I see strength, and we look to that when we look to our elders because they are the storytellers and the knowledge keepers," said Lisa Cooper, the chief and president of the Native Council.

"[Their faces] tell a story of us." 

The gallery was unveiled Friday afternoon, with funding through the P.E.I. Seniors' Secretariat. 

"Elders are getting older. We're losing elders through the years and we recognise that, and their stories are going with them," Cooper said. 

"This is a way to always honour and remember our elders." 

'I see pride'

Many members of the crowd clapped as the photos were unveiled. Soon after, people shared what the portraits mean to them in their own words.

"What a road we went through," said Mary Phillips. "We have crossed a number of bridges, and we're still alive." 

Adele McGuire stands in a colorful sweater smiling with shoulder length brown hair in front of a photos on a wall. Her picture can be seen over the shoulder.
Adele McGuire says the faces of the elders "need to be seen." (Sheehan Desjardins/ CBC News)

Kim Squires said she chose the regalia she's wearing in her portrait to honour her mother.

"I want to show her that she mattered," Squires told the room. "Everything I do is in her memory." 

Joyce Gallant looks at her picture, and smiles. 

"It's amazing," she said. "I look like my mom." 

To some, it was a reminder of where they came from — the history, the pride — and an acknowledgement of how resilient their community is.

"The responsibility for the youth is to take up the fight and never let it go, never bring us back to where we were," said Cooper.

Wayne MacDonald stand in a sweater vest and glasses smiling in front of a wall of portraits he captured
"I didn't make them smile. I didn't make them do anything. I just said act natural," said Wayne MacDonald, who took the photos. (Sheehan Desjardins/ CBC News)

Adele McGuire also has her portrait up in the wall. 

"What I see is a wall of elders telling their story, telling of what they went through, and I see pride in people's faces," she said.

'They've earned every wrinkle'

But the gallery is not done yet.

"We're going to add to it every year," said Native Council marketing coordinator Wayne MacDonald, who took the photos.

"I think we just got seven more today. So it's kind of an ever-growing process that will just keep evolving."

MacDonald said the Native Council might run out of wall space at some point. For now though, it's a moment to reflect, honour those portraits on the wall, and remember their stories. 

"They've earned every wrinkle. They've earned every dark spot," Cooper said. 

"I would say [they] carry them with pride, because they're here. They're still here today."