Mi'kmaw elder creates 22 paintings for families of N.S. mass shooting victims
Former RCMP officer hopes to gather with families to share teachings, help with healing
Joe Michael, a Mi'kmaw elder and 25-year veteran of the RCMP from Sipekne'katik First Nation in Nova Scotia, has prepared a gift for the families of the victims of April's mass shooting.
Twenty-two people were killed during the mass shooting that spanned 13 hours and over 150 kilometres of the province April 18-19.
Michael has created 22 paintings that include elements or symbols of traditional Mi'kmaw teachings, which Michael hopes will help the families to heal from the loss of their loved ones, he said.
"The paintings seemed to flow," Michael said.
"[As soon] as I laid a picture down, another image came to me. It just kind of snowballed from there."
He said that later this year, when measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 are reduced and people are able to gather in greater numbers, he's hoping to meet with the families to share the paintings and invite them to participate in Mi'kmaw ceremonies. He's recently made his contact information available on his website, if family members would like to reach him, he said.
"[The Mi'kmaq] understand, and we want to share our teachings, our healing. We want to help," he said.
Michael, who is known internationally for hand crafting and painting talking sticks — items used in numerous First Nation cultures — said he was reading online reports of the shootings early in the morning on April 19 when he began to feel an uneasy feeling "in my heart, in my gut," he said.
Michael served as an RCMP officer in numerous Nova Scotia communities for 25 years. In 2014, when three RCMP constables were killed in a shooting in Moncton, N.B., he was asked to travel to the province to honour the victims and families with Mi'kmaw ceremonies, he said. He made talking sticks for the wives of the three fallen officers.
"I looked at some of the images I put on a talking stick, and I started painting," he said.
"I just let my mind be guided by my hands."
The first painting he completed, he said, was of Const. Heidi Stevenson, who was killed in the shooting. Despite having worked for Nova Scotia RCMP at the same time as Stevenson, Michael said he didn't know her personally but that she'd gone out of her way to care for a family member of his when they had a run-in with the law.
"The stories I heard of her ... how she was a well respected member. Kindhearted, and always helped people," he said.
Michael framed his painting of Stevenson with an eagle feather, which is a gift of high honour in Mi'kmaw cultural practice.
Michael said he hopes each family will feel a connection with a painting and take it home, but that he intends on giving the painting of Stevenson to her family.