By Laura Stovel
A beautiful 12-foot by 15-foot mural is looking for a home. Created by around 150 Revelstoke children, guided by artist and filmmaker Nadia McLaren, the mural features a map of Canada unlike anything you have ever seen. In layer over layer it tells stories of love, betrayal, violence, healing and spiritual belief. These are the stories of Aboriginal people in Canada and North America and their contact with European colonial governments and institutions.
“This piece of artwork should not be hidden in an elementary school gym or in the basement of the high school. It should be on display in public where the community of Revelstoke can appreciate it, understand its significance and honour it,” said Mike Hooker, superintendent of School District 19.
McLaren, who is the school district’s elementary Aboriginal school assistant, is more specific. Ideally, she said, “I would love to see the mural hung at the community centre. Somewhere public and indoors, because it will last longer that way.”
The mural depicts a map of Aboriginal language groups before the time of contact. There is no Canada-US border, so the map highlights the unity of nations now separated by an imposed state divide.
“That’s what we started with,” McLaren said. “The thunderbird (which stretches across the map) is quite a powerful entity. It’s considered healing. And you have the moon, the raven down in the corner, the seven feathers which represent the seven grandfathers which are love, truth, courage, humility, wisdom and honour and respect.”
When she was hired as the elementary Aboriginal school assistant in September 2014, McLaren asked herself, “How can I jump into the program with something I’m comfortable with but that also uses the tools in a foundation for Aboriginal education? This is what I came up with.”
The panel was divided into 12 rectangles and each elementary school worked on four panels. As they painted, they explored themes appropriate to their interests and ages. Through the symbols, painted in layers, McLaren was able to teach students about pre-colonial history, Aboriginal cultures and values, residential schools, missing and murdered women, the Truth Commission and reconciliation.
Representing the missing and murdered women was particularly challenging. McLaren originally planned to represent them by attaching glass beads to the mural “but it just looked bedazzled” and distracted from the message.
In the end, “We included Grandmother Moon and then the raven, which is speaking to a dark chapter in Canada’s history. The residential schools will be put on there too with copper nails. It’s 99% finished. The connection between the moon and the raven represent all the work that still needs to be done.”
The students present at the opening at Revelstoke Secondary School on June 18 were very excited to be involved in the project. Grade seven student Kaytlyn New said, “There were so many layers. For each layer (McLaren) would give us a lesson about it, what it means to her and we would take that and make it what it means to us. I’m of Aboriginal heritage so it meant a lot, knowing it would be up for a long time. I could come back and show my kids.”
Autumn South and Charlie Hill from Columbia Park Elementary School loved the art work and the history.
“I didn’t know that there were four Aboriginal groups (in the Revelstoke area): Secwepemc, Ktunaxa, Sinixt and Syilx,” said South, a grade five student. Back a while ago Aboriginal kids would be taken from their families, far away from their moms. And they had to cut off their ties. Brothers and sisters were separated. And they had to learn a lot of chores.” She added that it’s important to remember this “because not everybody gets the life that you do.”
Hill, who is in grade four, said, “I learned that when they signed the treaty, (colonial representatives) promised food, education and medicine but all (the government) did was send their children away to residential schools. The parents tried to get as close as they could. They’d travel to the residential schools.”
“It’s important to know that Aboriginal people weren’t treated fairly and they’re actually the same as us just they have different laws and governance,” Hill said.
With so much talent, passion and history poured into this beautiful mural, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the community could appreciate it for years to come in a public place like the Community Centre?
Here are some photos from the event:
By Laura Stovel