Being in the presence of residential school survivors, hearing their stories and feeling their energy gave artist Mike Cywink inspiration for the visual aspects of a massive mural that will soon hang outside of the N’Amerind Friendship Centre in London’s core.
“I wanted to ensure that I was going about doing things the right way because, as an artist, I consider myself a storyteller. Even though my own personal life was affected by the residential school system, I never went there myself, so I wanted to make sure I was going about telling someone else’s story through these panels in the right way,” Cywink said.
He is Ojibwe from White River First Nation near Manitoulin Island and has been working with student artists on the panels, which are 12 feet high and 8 feet wide (3.5 m by 2.5 m).
“When people see this art, it’s somewhat of a representation of all of us around here, so I take a lot of responsibility and pride in knowing that,” Cywink said.
The panels are so large that they are each made up of several parts. Each is brimming with symbolism, about the creation of the earth and Indigenous people, about pride in the land, the lasting hurt of residential schools and the thriving cultures that Indigenous people continue to have.
“Each one of them is going to talk about the importance of our culture that was taken away from us and about who we are and our interconnection with creation,” said Tracey Whiteye, the transition and ceremony coordinator for the N’Amerind Friendship Centre.
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 on the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. The mural is called “We are still here.”
It’s a partnership between the city as well as the London Arts Council and the N’Amerind Friendship Centre. Those behind the project hope it will increase awareness and knowledge of the history of Canada’s residential schools as well as celebrate Indigenous art, culture, knowledge and history.
“When people drive by and see the friendship centre, they’re going to see friendship, peace and stories. And that’s the truth and the reconciliation that we’re continuing to work on,” Whiteye said.
Residential School Survivors have contributed to the creation of the mural.