This Thursday, September 30, marks the first National Day for Truth & Reconciliation, in which we take time to learn about, and reflect upon, the tragic history and legacy of residential schools (the last of which closed in Canada only 23 years ago).
Also taking place is Orange Shirt Day, which honours those children who survived the residential school system, and remembers those who did not. The day takes its name from the experience of Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, a former student of St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School outside Williams Lake, BC. Upon arriving at the school at the age of 6, she was stripped of her new orange shirt, which her grandmother had purchased for her (click here to read Phyllis’ story in her own words). Today, Orange Shirt Day stands as a reminder of the residential school system and its harm to children’s self-esteem and well being as we work towards understanding and reconciliation.
While Canadians are encouraged to wear orange on this day to raise awareness and honour the survivors of residential schools, you may be wondering what else you can do. Here at Business & Arts NL, we believe in the important role the arts plays in promoting empathy and understanding. With that said, here are some exhibits, public art pieces and other materials you can check out as you help educate yourself and commemorate National Day for Truth & Reconciliation. (This is by no means an exhaustive list, and we encourage you to share your own ideas with family and friends as well.)
On September 30, in observation of National Day for Truth & Reconciliation, The Rooms will be open from noon to 5pm and will offer free admission. In addition to making available a selection of books by (and featuring) Indigenous voices, The Rooms will also feature a selection of short documentaries and animations from the National Film Board featuring Indigenous voices from across the country (until October 1). (Read more here.)
Visitors are also encouraged to take in the exhibition “In Their Own Words: Life for Labrador Students at Residential School” on Level 3.
This exhibition was part of the Healing and Commemoration Project. The Rooms staff worked with members of the Healing and Commemoration Committee, comprised of former residential school students, to create an archive of first-hand accounts of the residential school experience in Labrador and Northern Newfoundland. Rooms staff assisted the team of former students with the digitization of stories collected and created an archive of these stories, which is available to the public. The exhibition came out of the work that was done for the Healing and Commemoration Collection and combines artifacts, artworks and archival material to tell the story of those former students, through their own eyes and in their own words. (Can’t make it in person? Visit the online collection here.)
Another exhibition visitors can check out is “In The Making,” featuring artist Billy Gauthier. Born in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Gauthier is an Inuit and Métis artist and activist currently based in North West River, NL. He initially began to carve in 1996, inspired by his cousin, John Terriak, a skilled Nunatsiavut sculptor. Gauthier’s work was included in the touring exhibition SakKijâjuk: Art and Craft from Nunatsiavut from 2017 to 2019, with his first-mid career retrospective — Saunituinnaulungitotluni | Beyond Bone — presented at The Rooms in St. John’s in the summer of 2019. Gauthier’s work has been exhibited at various art galleries across Canada, including the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax, NS, the Winnipeg Art Gallery in Manitoba and the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, ON, among many others.
Located in St. John’s, First Light is a community-based non-profit that serves the urban Indigenous and non-Indigenous community alike through a range of programs and services. If you’re looking for ways to recognize Orange Shirt Day, First Light has created a handy guide with some simple steps that you can take.
To help educate yourself and others about Orange Shirt Day and residential schools, First Light has also compiled an excellent list of books (for both youth and adults). One of the recommended children’s books is “Stolen Words,” written by Melanie Florence and illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard, which you can see/listen to in its entirety on YouTube.
On Wednesday, September 29 from 6-7:30pm at 42 Bannerman Street, First Light will also host a Community Culture Circle where you will have the opportunity to braid sweetgrass into ribbon pins to honour National Day for Truth & Reconciliation. (Click here to register.)
Conception Bay Family Resource Program Inc.
The Conception Bay Family Resource Program has also been sharing some ideas for how to honour National Day for Truth & Reconciliation on their Facebook page. One of the resources they have shared are colouring pages from visual artist and illustrator Hawlii Pichette (which are available as free, downloadable PDFs), featuring the words “Every Child Matters” in a variety of Indigenous languages. There’s also a variety of other beautifully illustrated free colouring pages available.
Another activity the organization suggests is painting beach rocks (decorated with simple, meaningful messages), which can be placed around walking trails and other public areas to help bring attention to this important day – an activity in which the whole family can participate.
Follow the Conception Bay Family Resource Program on Facebook for more great ideas.
Newfoundland & Labrador Public Libraries
The Newfoundland & Labrador Public Libraries have also shared an excellent list of fiction and non-fiction books (available as either an e-book, audiobook or physical book) by Indigenous authors that speak to the history and ongoing impact of residential schools. Great for starting conversations with kids and teens about the importance of National Day for Truth & Reconciliation. (Click here for the list.) And here’s another list of recommended reads for all ages to learn more about the history and ongoing legacy of residential schools and support engagement with reconciliation.
Public art can help inform, educate and spark conversations about so many important topics, including National Day for Truth & Reconciliation. Here are some Indigenous works we encourage you to check out (that relate to the aforementioned, as well as other pieces).
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Monument
Artist: Jenny Brake
Location: Majestic Lawn, West Street Business District, Corner Brook
Located in the north corner of the Majestic Lawn is a memorial garden and community gathering space dedicated to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls from area communities and across Canada. The circular designs of the commemorative garden include elements of a medicine wheel. Indigenous artist Jenny Brake was inspired to paint the image entitled’ “Don’t forget Me,” translating to “Mukk-aqanta’sualiq” in Mi’kmaq and is representative of both the history of Indigenous women and the present day. According to Jenny, her painting can be interpreted in the following way: “The women in the circle represent the women that we have lost and the women that are still enduring the violence. The medicine wheel is a universal tool for Indigenous people that represents our culture and the teachings of each of the four directions. The women surround the medicine wheel to show combined strength and shared experiences.”
Dorset Doorway/Mother and Son
Artists: Jim Maunder and Michael Massie
Location: Point Riche, Port au Choix National Historic Site, Port au Choix
A series of artworks is located along the walking trails at the Port au Choix National Historic Site (designated in 1970) to commemorate Indigenous settlement at the site. The Maritime Archaic people, the Groswater Palaeoeskimo, the Dorsets, and more recent Indigenous groups were here before the arrival of Europeans in the region. Phillip’s Garden is the site of a major Dorset habitation, occupied for 800 years beginning 2,000 years ago. Located near the Point Riche Lighthouse (a 2 km gravel road from the Visitor Reception Centre), “Dorset Doorway” is an artistic representation of a Dorset Palaeoeskimo house which was uncovered at Phillip’s Garden. The artwork encompasses two laser-cut stainless steel arches (4’ wide x 8′ high) placed on opposite sides of a 24’ diameter rock wall. Nearby Mother and Son, a steel sculpture, depicts sealskin preparation. Labrador artist Michael Massie and Newfoundland artist Jim Maunder worked together on these two sculptures. They also collaborated on the two sculptures around Phillip’s Garden, on the north side of the Point Riche Peninsula.
Hunters with Seal/Hunter in Kayak
Artists: Jim Maunder and Michael Massie
Location: Phillip’s Garden, Port au Choix National Historic Site, Port au Choix
Two in a series of collaborative artworks by Labrador artist Michael Massie and Newfoundland artist Jim Maunder are located along the Phillip’s Garden Trail on the north side of the Point Riche Peninsula. Archaeological excavations indicated Phillip’s Garden was a prime location for hunting and harvesting harp seals for food, shelter, clothing and tools. The two steel sculptures depict harp seal hunting as a way of life for the Dorset people, who inhabited the place more than 2,000 years ago.
Makkovik Mural Project
Artist: Jessica Winters
Location: Frank’s Store, Makkovik
The Makkovik Mural Project, located on Frank’s General Store in Makkovik, is an artist-led initiative. Inspired by the arts she saw while travelling around the communities in the Arctic and Greenland, Jessica Winters wanted to create a mural for her community. She received funding from the Government of Nunatsiavut’s Department of Education and Economic Development and began the project in August 2020. Winters invited four local high school students – Jesse James Ford, Seth Ford, Hannah Gear and Michelle Nochasak – to help with the design and paint the artwork. The Makkovik Mural Project is a good example of an artist-led community public art project.
Artist: Jordan Bennett
Location: Dr. Hilda Tremblett Wellness Centre, Bonavista
Jordan Bennett’s “Pi’tawe’k” was created in 2019 for the Bonavista Biennale, a month-long contemporary art event on the Bonavista Peninsula. After the Biennale, Bennett’s artwork was acquired by the Town of Bonavista, and it remains in the community. Located on the exterior wall of the Wellness Centre building, a former high school, the large-scale mural measures 30′ x 50′. Bennett’s design comprises an assemblage of artforms expressing the Mi’kmaq and Beothuk cultures. These forms were made with reflective material and they are illuminated at night by the headlights of passing vehicles.
Ktaqmkuk – Msit No’kmaq
Artist: Jordan Bennett
Location: Rawlins Cross, St. John’s
Mi’kmaq visual artist Jordan Bennett created the mural “Ktaqmkuk – Msit No’kmaq” as part of the 2018 “Identity: A Celebration of Indigenous Arts and Culture” festival organized by Eastern Edge Gallery, an artist-run centre. The mural project is an example of a collaborative partnership involving Eastern Edge Gallery, the City of St. John’s and The Paint Shop. Located in a small green space at the corner of King’s Road and Queen’s Road, known as Rawlins Cross, Bennett’s mural features symbols and images drawn from Mi’kmaq and Beothuk culture.
Artist: Edmund Saunders
Location: Government House, St. John’s
The Honourable Judy M. Foote, Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador, established the first Heart Garden in the province in memory of the Indigenous children lost to the residential school system and to honour the survivors and the legacy of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Heart Gardens are about honouring memories and planting dreams. Located on the grounds of Government House, the Heart Garden was designed in consultation with MUN Botanical Garden and Indigenous groups. It comprises five planting beds containing traditional plants used by Indigenous people for food and medicinal purposes, and five benches inscribed with names of the five Indigenous Governments in Newfoundland Labrador: Innu Nation, Miawpukek First Nation, Nunatsiavut, Nunatukavut, and Qalipu First Nation. The centre of the garden is a heart carved from Labradorite by Inuit artist Edmund Saunders.
Crow Gulch Mural
Artists: Jordan Bennett and Marcus Gosse
Location: Corner Brook (near pulp and paper mill)
In August, the City of Corner Brook also unveiled a new mural by Mi’kmaq artists Jordan Bennett and Marcus Gosse, paying tribute to the lost community of Crow Gulch. The mural is located where the community once stood, near Corner Brook’s pulp and paper mill. Click here to learn more about the mural and the community it honours.