Truth hurts but it can bring hope. Students at Highland Secondary School in the Comox Valley took lessons from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to create hope through the visual arts in a unique silkscreen project.
Their art project, titled Hope and Love Beyond the 94: A Journey of Reconciliation, is a journey that began long before ink hit the paper.
In 2009, the TRC traveled the country coast to coast listening to survivors and communities impacted by the Residential School system. From that journey came 94 calls to action, documented to be used to educate, forge relationships, connect with the past, and foster reconciliation and healing.
The journey for this Grade 11/12 Art class began in September 2018 at the start of the school year and has resulted in a stunning silkscreened composition of five original Indigenous design symbols.
The project was born from a vision of art teacher, Charlotte Hood-Tanner. For some time, Hood-Tanner felt a strong desire to incorporate the Salish Weave (Indigenous arts of the Salish people of the Pacific Northwest) into her classroom to make a unique project. She also longed for a silkscreen lab but didn’t quite know how to achieve both.
So, Hood-Tanner set out on her own journey beginning with studying the TRC.
“Almost one calendar year later to the day, the first leg of the journey is complete,” expressed Hood-Tanner. "During that year of development, I communicated with my Indigenous colleagues, regularly educated myself on the 94 calls to action and attended a professional development workshop and art installation on Indigenous education and justice.”
Hood-Tanner explained that five years ago, there wasn’t as big a focus on including Indigenous in the education curriculum.
“We, of course, wanted to include Indigenous [education] within our classrooms, she said “Now it’s an expectation. It’s part of our curriculum.”
With the help and encouragement from Tami Jerome, Highland teacher librarian, Hood-Tanner learned of two potential grants, the first through Comox Valley School’s Indigenous Education and the second through ArtStarts in Schools. Jerome assisted in the grant application and together they were able to successfully secure the necessary funds to create a silkscreen lab.
ArtStarts also provides grant funding for an Artist-in-Residence to work within a school. Hood-Tanner pursued Andy MacDougall, an experienced local printmaker with the Wachiay Friendship Centre, to guide students through the silkscreen process of transforming their compositions onto posters.
Students collaborated in groups of four to five to create a graphic composition that reflected their assigned topic among the select categories Hood-Tanner chose from the language of the TRC. Apart from the guiding topic, she said there were no rules to express creativity or work collaboratively. Her goal was to achieve two project outcomes - to encourage dialogue about reconciliation and to allow students to respond to the issue with a personal voice.
“We did some background research before going into the project so that we had some perspective,” expressed Kate Waddell (Grade 12). “For us, we did the Justice topic and there’s an overwhelming amount of Indigenous representation within our jail system, and we see how that is a repercussion of the residential schools.”
“My group had Health for a topic to create our silkscreen and learning that, throughout residential communities, health is not represented as it should be,” expressed Jenna Leggett (Grade 12). “All the impacts of what [government] did for their healthcare system is not quite up to par with what they need for their physical and mental health, especially mental health.”
The project features two main compositional elements to connect the series. Each of the five individual designs created by a student group is framed within a simplified and brightly coloured figure to represent a child. The intent is to showcase all five designs together into one collection to represent a visual metaphorical community of [residential school] children.
Underneath each child is a K’omoks First Nation (KFN) word to exemplify the intent of the collection and as expressed in the TRC. Josie Andrew, Highland Indigenous Education Support Worker, helped conduct the research for a word for hope or love. While the language is almost extinct, with the help of Nicole Rempel, Elected KFN Chief, a K’omoks translation was found, ǰɛqaǰɛ meaning “to hope.”
“Here we are one hundred years later, a group of young artists honoring the spirits of other potential young [Indigenous] artists that you never had a chance to meet, the children whose lives were changed forever by residential schools,” expressed Hood-Tanner. “To connect demographics is really beautiful to me.”
Hood-Tanner said an offshoot of the project she had not expected was the valuable learning gained by her International students. Many had no prior understanding of the concept of residential school. To prepare them on the topic, Hood-Tanner said that she framed the lesson around issues similar in their country around marginalization.
She said the in the spirit of reconciliation she tried to help all her students understand that they can use art to move forward.
“I think for the most part the designs turned out in a way that they seem appropriate. It was done to move in a positive direction,” added Hood-Tanner. “We want to make the nation healthier.”
The Bee (Language and Culture)
Chosen as an excellent symbol for community and connection. Bees are social insects that rely heavily on communication for their hives to be successful. Much like our bees, many of our Indigenous languages are on the edge of extinction. Through careful support and space, both can grow and come back.
The Dolphin/Orca (Child Welfare)
The composition reflects the shape of an open heart to represent the growth, love and nurturing required for child welfare to thrive. Their fantasy creature is meant to be strong but also playful to reflect the lives of the children that survived.
The Owl (Education)
The owl symbolizes wisdom and learning. Within the owl is a bird protecting five canoes on a journey to reconciliation. Each canoe represents one of the five legacy threads examined in the series.
The Scales (Justice)
The scales of justice in this composition reflect the inequities in the distribution of power for indigenous voices. The forms in this composition can be seen clearly trying to tip the scales back and provide a more balanced legal system for our Indigenous Canadians.
The Sun (Health)
The sun was chosen to represent renewal and hope for the future. In the center are two hands holding a heart to symbolize connections and mutual support for one another during the reconciliation and healing process.
Note: All rights reserved. Original and digital reproductions of the collection of designs are copyright protected. License required for use.