A self-portrait depicts Lisa Anderson wearing a white dress standing in a clearing near Riske Creek where her father’s ashes were buried in 1998.
In the photograph she watches a white balloon float away up into the air.
Her piece is about letting go and is part of The Art of Reconciliation, an art show on display at the Station House upper gallery until Sept. 27.
Anderson was eight years old when her father died and all these years later she wonders if she lost him because of residential school.
“My dad was adopted, but I only found out who is real mother was in January, four years after she had died,” Anderson said. “He was from Soda Creek and I’ve been trying to reconnect with a disconnected past because I’ve realized I lost my culture.”
After the St. Joseph Mission Residential School Commemorative Project in 2013, many involved were wondering how to keep the conversation about reconciliation going, said Anne Burrill, one of the show’s facilitators and the city’s manager of social development.
Burrill said art is a powerful medium and often draws people in who might not normally engage in a conversation about residential schools and reconciliation.
When Burrill approached the gallery, asking if there was interest in an art show on residential schools and reconciliation, she was given the go-ahead.
A call went out for First Nations and non-First Nations artists to participate in a facilitated workshop in May where the history of residential schools and colonization was explored.
“We talked about what reconciliation is and means,” she recalled. “We asked people to go away and create art based on their experience of the workshop.”
Six weeks later participants returned to share thoughts, ideas and art, and were encouraged to submit art work for the show.
The workshop and process of learning were very powerful, she said, adding many told her they experienced personal growth.
“Artists I talked to told me they were immersed in the topic for weeks and months afterwards,” Burrill said. “I think everyone learned from it.”
Burrill created a piece as well.
Sheila Dick, health administrator at White Feather Family Centre in Canim Lake, facilitated the workshop, sharing her 20 years of experience working with residential school survivors.
“I wasn’t prepared for the things that came up because I’ve been working on this for so long,” Dick said, explaining how she couldn’t create a piece of art work herself because there was too much turmoil and she was afraid of what might materialize.
Instead she submitted a buckskin jacket her mother had made for her when she was seven years old.
“I realized how much that jacket meant to me,” Dick recalled. “I wore it with a little crown when I rode in the Williams Lake Stampede Parade.”
Dick’s mother died the next year.
Half of the participants in the workshop were First Nations and the other half were not.
“I am 59 years old and am still realizing there are people who don’t know about the residential school experience,” she said. “It’s not a bad thing, they just don’t know.”
She felt all of the participants developed great respect for each other and admitted she had them participating immediately to get them talking to each other.
They had to make a self portrait to introduce themselves. They watched a video created by youth from Canoe Creek, and then participated in small group discussions.
Echoing Burrill, Dick said it was just as much about the process as it was about the art.
In the end only four of 10 First Nations participants created art and Dick was left wondering if they felt the same way as she did.
“We don’t want to leave people hanging so we will be bringing everyone back together to ask them how they are feeling now,” Dick said.
“Art can be a trigger and we don’t want walking wounded.”
First Nations people need to celebrate the talents and abilities they received from their parents because they have survived for thousands of years because of creativity and natural abilities, she added.
If one message emerges from the show Dick hopes it will emphasize how important it is that women and children become a priority again.
“We live in a province that has the second highest rate of child poverty and you know, some of our youth are involved in gangs because they are looking for a place to belong.”