Being in the presence of residential school survivors, hearing their stories and feeling their energy has inspired artist Mike Cywink for the visual aspects of a huge mural that will soon hang outside the N’Amerind Friendship Center in the heart of London .
“I wanted to make sure I was doing things the right way because as an artist, I consider myself a storyteller. Even though my personal life was affected by the residential school system, I never went there myself, so I wanted to make sure I was going to tell someone else’s story through these panels the right way,” Cywink said.
He is Ojibwe from White River First Nation near Manitoulin Island and worked with student artists on the panels, which measure 12 feet high and 8 feet wide (3.5m by 2.5m).
“When people see this art, it’s kind of a representation of all of us here, so I take a lot of responsibility and pride in knowing that,” Cywink said.
The panels are so large that they each consist of several parts. Each is full of symbols, about the creation of the land and Indigenous peoples, the pride of the land, the lasting wounds of residential schools, and the flourishing cultures that Indigenous peoples continue to have.
“Each of them are going to talk about the importance of our culture being taken from us and who we are and our interconnectedness with creation,” said Tracey Whiteye, Transition and Ceremony Coordinator for the N ‘Amerind Friendship Center.
Friendship, peace, stories
The mural will be hung outside the Friendship Centre, located on Colborne Street at Horton Street, on September 30 during a ceremony to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The fresco is titled “We are still here”.
It is a partnership between the city as well as the London Arts Council and the N’Amerind Friendship Centre. The project hopes it will increase awareness and knowledge of Canada’s residential school history and celebrate Indigenous art, culture, knowledge and history.
“When people drive by and see the friendship center, they’re going to see friendship and peace and stories. And that’s the truth and reconciliation that we continue to work on,” Whiteye said. .
Residential school survivors helped create the mural.