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.

“When that news came about… we had to speak to that. We had to commemorate those spirits, so what we did is we created the 215 spirit orbs representing each child that was found,” said artist Jeannie Red Eagle.

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

Even though the mural has some dark depictions on it, the Sabe holding the teepee on the right is meant to represent hope for Indigenous people. (Jeannie Red Eagle)

They found a home for the project on 260 Superior Ave., and added a new 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,” she said. 

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.

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

The mural features crosses outside of a residential school. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

“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, which was designed by Peguis artist Jordan, was also an opportunity for Anderson to learn more about her culture.

Jordan Stranger, whose grandparents attended residential schools, designed the project and says it will allow people to have tough conversations. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

“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 very talked about in my family due to what happened.” 

While more people continue to learn about residential schools, Metis artist Ashley Christiansen says that public art will play a vital role in peoples education.

“There’s a lot of people that don’t even know that these things happened and that they were happening recently… It’s pretty unnerving, but people should know about it,” Christiansen said. 

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