Stained glass project helps heal Attawapiskat wounds

A project aimed at healing some of the hurts from the residential school system has come to light in Attawapiskat.

Attawapiskat couple accesses Truth and Reconciliation Fund to create windows for Catholic church

Attawapiskat healing

CBC News: Ottawa at 6:00

9 years ago
Artist from remote community hoping stained glass project will help heal old wounds at the Attawapiskat First Nation. 2:11

A project aimed at healing some of the wounds from the residential school system has come to light in Attawapiskat.

Jackie Hookimaw-Witt and her husband Norbert Witt worked with Northern Art Glass in Ottawa on a week-long course as part of a project to replace six large stained glass windows for the Catholic church in Attawapiskat.

"The church is like a central station where people meet, it's a social institution," Hookimaw-Witt said. "We thought it would be an ideal place where we could work on the project where it brings people together and it brings healing together."

The couple designed and created a unique stained-glass window for the Attawapisakat’s Catholic church. The window depicts caribou and polar bears and imagery of a nativity scene in a teepee.

'Unifying' tribute

Father Rodrigue Vezina said the new stained glass window at Attawapiskat Catholic church represents a kind of way of unifying. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

It has since been shipped to Attawapiskat and is now in place at the church.

Father Rodrigue Vezina, who has been the pastor at St. Francis Xavier parish in Attawapiskat for the last 39 years, said the window sheds light on a larger picture.   

"It gives kind of a closure," he said. "People, they believe in God. But they have the native religion also going on. This is a kind of way of unifying, if you wish."

Hookimaw-Witt's project is connected to older wounds, including the church's history of removing children from the community to residential schools.

She applied and received a $50,000 grant from the federal Truth and Reconciliation Fund to create the stained glass windows.

"It's something positive, healing and creative and we want to show ... that spirituality is important and people are still strong Catholics," said Hookimaw-Witt.

More windows to come

Hookimaw-Witt said her 80-year-old parents and four of her siblings spent their childhood in residential schools. She said her parents paddled 150 kilometres to see their children in a Fort Albany school.

Father Vezina said members of the community will now work together to create more stained-glass windows to line both sides of the church.

Each window will have an animal depicting the six Cree seasons and other images, including families smoking fish, and contact with early missionaries.

Hookimaw-Witt and her husband hope to teach artists in the community to create the other five windows.