Indigenous

Mural depicting Canada's residential schools ready to be unveiled in Selkirk, Man.

A large public mural in Selkirk, Man., dedicated to the legacy of residential schools has been completed, and its artists have added a new section to commemorate the students whose remains were found in Kamloops, B.C., earlier this month.

Work by several Indigenous artists acknowledges discovery of remains at residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Ashley Christiansen, Jeannie Red Eagle, Sierrah Anderson stand in front of a new mural in Selkirk, Man., that depicts the legacy of residential schools. (Darin Morash/CBC)

Artists finishing a mural in Selkirk, Man., on the legacy of residential schools have added a new section to commemorate the students whose remains were found recently at a school site in Kamloops, B.C. 

"When that news came about . . .  we had to speak to that," said artist Jeannie Red Eagle.

"We had to commemorate those spirits, so what we did is we created the 215 spirit orbs representing each child that was found."

Red Eagle, who is Anishinaabe from Rolling River First Nation in Manitoba, is the project leader for Mashkawigaabawid Abinoojiiyag — Stand Strong, a large-scale mural that depicts what life was like for Indigenous people in Canada prior to colonization, and post-residential schools.

Jeannie Red Eagle is a Selkirk resident and emerging artist. She has been working towards bringing more public Indigenous art installations to the city. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

They found a home for the project at 260 Superior Ave., and added a section that includes 215 blue orbs surrounded by the colour orange to honour the lives of those whose remains were found.

"I thought it was important to use the colour blue to represent the spirits, because in our lodges we are taught that we come from the stars . . . and when we're in those lodges our spirits appear as blue orbs," said Red Eagle.

"It was really emotional for me because I painted every one of these and then each one has a fingerprint. So for me, I feel like I am connected."

Learning experience for artists

The project, funded by Heritage Canada, is the result of months of work from Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists in the area. It was designed by Peguis First Nation artist Jordan Stranger.

Sierrah Anderson, whose great-grandmother went to residential school, said she is grateful to have worked on a project that can bring knowledge and healing to the community.

The giant holding the teepee on the right is meant to represent hope for Indigenous people. (Jeannie Red Eagle)

"They say a picture is worth a thousand words," Anderson said.

"Well, telling a full story about something that deserves to have light shed on it, that cannot be denied now that it is in story form. It's been amazing to be able to do that." 

The mural was also an opportunity for Anderson, who is Métis, to learn more about her culture.

"I'm 25 years old and there was still a residential school open in my lifetime," Anderson said.

"Learning that and getting to learn more about the teachings has been also amazing, considering it's not something talked about in my family due to what happened." 

Métis artist Ashley Christiansen said public art will continue play a vital role in educating people about residential schools.

"There's a lot of people that don't even know that these things happened and that they were happening recently," Christiansen said. 

"It's pretty unnerving, but people should know about it."

Red Eagle and Stranger will hold a pipe ceremony outside the mural's location on Superior Avenue. She said people are welcome to visit, or have the option of watching the unveiling ceremony on the Mashkawigaabawid Abinoojiiyag Stand Strong Children Facebook page.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1

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