The town gathered on the afternoon of Sept. 30 to assimilate the culture, recognize injustices and appreciate the resilience and contributions of Indigenous people in our community, with the unveiling of the Indigenous mural ‘Let Them Play.’
This well-attended event marked the first year of Canada recognizing the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The mural created by artist Ryan Jason Allen Willert, with directions from Tracey Grienke, is located along the sidewalk at Lakeshore Drive and 44 Street.
Sylvan Lake Mayor Teresa Rilling said at the event, “This mural is much more than just beautification. Through Ryan (Willert), the Indigenous way of living and storytelling is brought to life in the mural.” She added, “The mural also represents Indigenous healing and struggles and our community’s path towards reconciliation. Today, Sept 30 is Orange Shirt Day.
“On this day we wear orange to recognize the survivors of Canada’s residential schools. We wear orange to recognize the families and their communities. We wear orange to participate in the reconciliation process. Our hearts go out to the children who never made it home. Our hearts go out to those who are still healing.”
The Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) has recognized 139 residential schools across Canada.
Sylvan Lake is located on Treaty 6 territory that respects the histories, languages and cultures of First Nations, Métis, Inuit, and all first peoples of Canada, whose presence continues to enrich our vibrant community, shared Rilling.
Mural director Tracey Grienke said that the orange background represents the children lost to residential schools. She shared that her vision was to have a positive mural created, portraying a stronger and happier future of Indigenous children, which Willert beautifully brought to life.
“I wanted a girl dancing in her full regalia because the children were not allowed to dance. Their traditional ceremonies are practice any sort of native traditions or speak their native language. The girl has beautiful long hair in the mural, which was always cut short at the residential schools. The long hair for Indigenous boys and girls represents pride and strength.
So, Let Them Play is about freeing the survivors and the murdered children, and saying it’s okay, time to play, dance, sing, learn your native customs again. The boy in the mural is a proud Indigenous male. He portrays happiness, he may have just come back from a hunt or participated in a dance ritual or went through his right of passage and became a man. This mural is telling the Indigenous people that it’s okay to be yourselves and it’s time to heal and relearn our culture which was taken away from us,” shared Grienke.
Admiring the finished work of art, Willert said, “It’s got this simple imagery that’s on it and the write-up on there, and I think it not only is a good message, but it’s very clean and classy-looking. So, it looks nice for the community, and I believe that the write-ups, a lot of people are going to read it and it is going to change a lot of people, the way they think and feel, and I hope that it serves its purpose.”
Willert explained that the mural art was initially created on canvas and paper, which was later photographed, edited to add background and the write-up, before being printed and placed on the site.
“The mural is absolutely beautiful. I came out here to show my support for the community, the Blackfoot tribe (Blackfoot Confederacy/Siksikaitsitapi) and everyone involved,” said Sylvan Lake’s RCMP officer Trevor Viklund, adding, “This is their day. It’s for us to listen right now and hear their truths.”
Viklund said that he got to meet several wonderful people and learn from them during his time serving on a First Nations reserve. He said, “I think with this day, and more and more people getting involved, people will be educated, and they will get to learn and experience the culture more, and learn about what happened in the past. It was a great event and I’m really glad I got to come and be a part of it.”
The Principal of H. J. Cody High School, Mike Garrow, who attended the event with his wife and daughter, shared the extreme importance he believes this event holds.
“We were looking forward to coming and acknowledging what the past has been, and appreciate Ryan’s art and being able to reconcile what we’ve done in the past and make it a part of our community that is here all the time for us, to see, enjoy, and show our recognition to survivors, students, and children who have not survived,” said Garrow.
Further information regarding the mural and Truth and Reconciliation can be found on the town’s website.