WINNIPEG – The experiences of residential school survivors are woven with traditional First Nations, Inuit and Métis teachings and art forms that have been stripped from students in the design of a new commemorative coin unveiled at a special ceremony on Thursday.
The Royal Canadian Mint has partnered with the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation, Indigenous artists and survivors to create a keepsake that acknowledges the truths and traumas behind the residential school system.
“For too long, the terrible damage caused by the residential school system has not been shared. The kids (were) shamed…they were ignored,” said Stephanie Scott, the center’s executive director.
“This memory recognizes the truth. More than that, it does so through the voices and vision of the survivors themselves.
The two-sided coin, which can be displayed or worn, was co-designed by Cree artist Leticia Spence, Inuk artist Jason Sikoak and Métis artist JD Hawk. The trio consulted with survivors.
Eugène Arcand said working with the designers and the Mint gave survivors the space to share their truths without fear of embarrassment, shame or blame.
Arcand is a Cree from Muskeg Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan. He spent a total of 11 years attending St. Michael’s Indian Residential School and St. Paul’s Lebret Student Residence in Saskatchewan.
The discovery of what are believed to be 215 unmarked graves at a former school site in Kamloops, British Columbia, last year woke the country up to the atrocities facing Indigenous children and their families, said Arcand.
“For years we shared our stories and no one believed us. 215 validated that we were telling the truth. We can never forget it.
He said the release of the remembrance, just over a week before the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, is part of a larger effort to educate the public and help heal intergenerational wounds.
On one side of the medal, “Every Child Matters” is written in English and French. Footprints appear on either side, representing ancestors walking with younger generations. In the center, orange handprints form the shape of a sun.
The three artists have created a collection of symbolic elements that form an expression of Indigenous cultures and perspectives on the other side of the coin.
The traditional line tattoo, the Northern Lights and an ulu, a curved knife used in the North, represent the Inuit.
The Métis sash, floral beadwork and a bison represent the Métis nation.
A tipi, two women holding a cradle, or tikanagan, and the sun are used to represent First Nations rights, culture, and teachings.
Spence, who is from the Pimicikamak Cree Nation, said she drew on her grandmother’s experiences of being raised by a family member in her conception: “This idea of matriarchal love and the love a child feels.”
Spence added that residential schools changed the way Indigenous people showed love and affection, so she wanted to imagine a world where that was not the case with her design.
Marie Lemay, President and CEO of the Mint, hopes that Canadians will be able to wear this memory with pride.
“It will be a signal of their willingness to walk the path of reconciliation.”
Proceeds from the play will go to the Na-mi-quai-ni-mak Community Support Fund established by the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation. The fund helps survivors and their communities carry out healing and remembrance activities.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 22, 2022.
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