The Town of Eckville unveiled Indigenous artwork outside two schools as a tribute to children lost at residential schools, on Oct. 4.
“The tributes to residential school children are a reminder to our community about the many Indigenous children who attended and died in Alberta residential schools. You might say that it is our way of recognizing and remembering them,” said Jack Ramsden, town CAO. He added, “The event was very low key with comments from Mayor Posti and Superintendent Tim De Ruyck (Wolf Creek Public Schools). Brief comments were made by the principal at each school. Elder Bert Bull dedicated each of the tributes with a ‘smudging ceremony,’ a few words of wisdom, and a prayer (in Cree). The entire student body and teachers were in attendance at the Elementary School.”
The artwork displays broken hearts, and hands reaching out.
Artist Sherry Richardson, who has been an Eckville resident for over 15 years, said, “The high school mural of the broken heart mended with gold originated from the Japanese art of Kintsugi. Repairing broken pottery with seams of gold. The children whose lives were taken are held together, bonding their hearts as one. The space to the right was left open…because it’s not over.
The hand in the center represents the highway of tears. It lies over the center holding together both sides of the heart. From the top of the hand, it emits light. A light that comes from what is now known, understood, and to never let that light disappear again.
The elementary school mural also has the highway of tears hand, holding the small center crack together in the orange heart. On top of that are two hands coming together to form another heart. For, though our hearts may be strong, it’s the hands that work together to make the necessary changes that will make a difference.”
Community member Laurie Eluik ignited the project by reaching out to the town with an idea of painting white feathers on crosswalks in Eckville, shared Ramsden.
In June, Ramsden presented this idea to council, who asked him to check with Indigenous communities for their advice on the concept.
Ramsden reached out to Wolf Creek School Division’s First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Student Success (FNMI) Coordinator Shelagh Hagemann for suggestions. While she shared that the Elders would not recommend white feathers, her Indigenous contacts were very pleased to see that Eckville was considering such a gesture, said Ramsden, adding, “They suggested that orange was the more appropriate color and suggested a heart and, or, outreaching hand.”
Taking this information back to the council, they proposed the sidewalk in front of each school would be ideal location for the tribute, said Ramsden.
“Time passed and we were into summer and schools were closed and time slipped away from us.
“We held a meeting early in September with the two school principals (Ed Coles and Ian McLaren), one of the FNMI Cohorts, Erin Freadrich FNMI Coordinator, Josephine Small (Teacher and Learning Coach), Mayor Posti, and I.
“I had also invited Sherry Richardson who had recently attended a council meeting with a proposal to do some interesting artwork on our fire hydrants. I knew that Sherry had been placing specially painted rocks around town. When I asked Sherry to attend, she accepted gladly and said would bring some sketches along with her. She has a stepbrother and stepsister who are Indigenous,” said Ramsden.
At the meeting, it was agreed that the tributes would be dedicated on Oct. 4 by Elders from Maskwacis, for which Richardson had worked tirelessly, said Ramsden.
Completion of the artwork took a total of about 90 hours, with Richardson continuing work with a headlamp on until 12:30 a.m. the night before the ceremony.
“These murals were so well received by the adults and children of our community. I even received a replica hand inside a heart made of foam clay from one of the children.
“They watched me throughout the process and never passed up the opportunity to ask questions. Sometimes 10 or more at once.
“Only two ‘no parking’ signs with caution ribbon around them, were all that protected the murals each night. Not once did vandalism or harm come to either. It created many conversations, shed light on new information, and caused some happy tears as well. I was thanked, and encouraged by every passerby.
“It was by far the most rewarding and best-received work that I have done to date. I feel incredibly honoured and forever grateful to our town, our schools, and Wolf Creek School coordinators for coming together and creating the opportunity, ideas, and space that made everything come together,” concluded Richardson.