Youth mural artwork celebrated

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A once bare cement wall at the side of the Salt Spring Public Library has come alive with ocean imagery created by young Indigenous artists. 

A project envisioned by chief librarian Karen Hudson a few years ago came to fruition this month and the results were unveiled at a moving ceremony on Thursday, Aug. 26. 

“I really wanted to honour the land, the sea and the sky and the ancestors who paved the way for us to be here today, to be able to live here and thrive off these lands,” said Charlene Johnny, the Quw’utsun artist who designed the mural and led the project, to the by-invitation gathering.

The mural was funded primarily by a $10,000 Salt Spring Island Foundation grant.

Hudson told the Driftwood that she saw the huge wall as a perfect spot for an Indigenous-themed mural after seeing some First Nations place-name artwork Salt Spring Elementary School students created with local Indigenous history expert Chris Arnett some years ago. With the area’s First Nations having different names for the same places, incorporating those would not have been practical, Hudson said. Instead, the project fostered cooperation between Indigenous youth and elders of more than one nation and area.

“We want this to be a visible symbol of the library’s commitment to truth and reconciliation,” said Hudson, adding that she hoped other Indigenous-themed murals would be created in Ganges. 

Local MLA Adam Olsen of the Tsartlip First Nation provided the ceremony’s welcome and members of the Quw’utsun Tzinquaw Dancers group performed, spoke and blessed the mural.

Lead artist Johnny expressed her gratitude to the elders and to everyone involved in the project and ceremony.

“It’s always been a goal of mine to come home and create art on my home territory,” she said. “. . . I always knew I would be sharing what I know with the youth. I just didn’t think it would come so soon, so I am grateful for the elders for lending us teachings.

“I am grateful to the singers and the dancers for sharing their time and their art and their craft because we are all one. I have lots to learn. We all have lots to learn. I am super grateful to the community for hosting us and encouraging us and saying kind things to us. It’s a lot of work to have done in the last two weeks.” 

Hudson praised the youth for their bravery in coming to a place and staying with people they didn’t know. 

“[The project] was so much more than putting art on this beautiful wall. I am so proud of each and every one of them for everything they have done,” she said. 

Participating Indigenous artists besides Johnny were RJ (Stadskun Johnnie-Mills), Marie Hardisty, Brendan Hardisty, Kielynn Dick-Charleson, Jesselyn Johnny, Tinaye Joy-Mujuru, Joeluke and Darious Yellowhorn, Linda James and Sarah Jim.

Mike Charlie is a Penelakut elder who also spoke at the event, and explained how he ended up having input into the final product. 

Charlie said he had visited the site the previous week and asked Johnny where the sea urchins were in her design, since they were a staple of his peoples’ diet. Johnny ended up free-handing four lively mauve urchins at the bottom of the mural, while the rest of the images were created using stencils. Charlie also requested an eagle, which will likely be added at a later date. 

Charlie’s brother James Charlie praised the mural artwork and its creators, and spoke about the need for everyone to work together for the land and humans’ future.

“There will be no more ocean and no more forests if we don’t work together,” he said. “We are only here for a short short time and we have done more harm in the past couple hundred years than at any other time in our history. We must work together to preserve what we have for our children and our grandchildren and our great grandchildren. We must work as one. Learn from one another. Share your knowledge with one another. Share the history.” 

Additional funds were provided by the Philip and Muriel Berman Foundation, and invaluable support came from Arnett, the Salt Spring Arts Council, Joe Akerman and the Stqeeye’ Learning Society (Xwaaqw’um Project) and the School District 64 Indigenous Education department.

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