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Connecting Through StoriesConnecting Through Stories

weavingThis gathering was designed as an "exploration of relationships through art making and connection to the Land." Its aim was to create intergenerational and intercultural connections to help non-indigenous people to gain a greater understand the historical impacts of colonization and residential schools.

It was co-sponsored by the Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition, as a member of HC Link, and the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, and organized by several community members, including: Carol Kajorinne, Community Arts & Heritage Education Project Crystal Nielsen, Community Artist Michelle Richmond-Saravia, founder of beSuperior Consulting and representative of Thunder Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre’s Long Life Care Program Michelle Kolobutin, Community Clothing Assistance

The organizers saw the regional gathering as an opportunity to contribute to Article 63 of the Call to Actions contained in the Truth and Reconciliation Report, which calls for “building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect”, and to Article 83, which calls for “a strategy for Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists to undertake collaborative projects and produce works that contribute to the reconciliation process”.

The gathering was held at the Baggage Building Arts Building in Thunder Bay, and engaged students from a neighbouring school, elders and seniors from the Thunder Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre and Community Clothing Assistance, college students, artists, storytellers, and other community members in a creative process that combined sharing their stories with a collaborative weaving project.

Elder Diane Michano-RichmondThe event began with an opening smudge ceremony, led by Elder Diane Michano-Richmond. Michelle Richmond Saravia, of beSuperior Consulting, shared a story of her journey and invited other to share their stories throughout the day. One elder reminisced about his negative experience at a residential school.

Eleanor Albanese, a community-engaged artist, guided the collaborative weaving project. The participants worked in groups of 6-8 around tables with a weaving frame and strips of cloth of a variety of colours and patterns. Eleanor laid out many pictures of a variety of subjects, such as people of different ages and races, different plants and animals and landscapes, along the windowsills that spanned the long room. She invited participants to go up, one table at a time, to view the pictures and select one to bring back to their table. Once seated again, they took turns explaining what they liked about the picture and what meaning it had for them. Many stories were shared in this way. Each person then took a marker and wrote meaningful words or drew a picture or symbol on a strip of cloth. They shared their words or symbols with others at their table, then, as a group, they worked on weaving the strips of cloth into the weaving frame.

students showing their weavingThe group took a break for lunch, which was provided by Fox on the Run, a local restaurant and caterer. When the groups completed their weavings, they showcased them at the front of the room and explained the meaning of some of the elements. There were many exclamations about the beauty of the weavings and a warm, positive mood was apparent at the close of the gathering.

In reflecting on the experience, organizers made the following comments: It was moving for me to see how people really did share their stories, and wove their stories together, both symbolically and literally.

For the seniors and Elders, it provided a creative and social opportunity. There was an opportunity for all to share and hear stories through art making as well as devour some nurturing food. I heard some profound stories come out of the youth! I feel that no matter the age, everyone had a valid and meaningful story to share.

For something like this to be successful, it takes a high level of experience in community-engaged arts and also cultural knowledge; it takes humility; it takes a group of people all working together with a common goal; it takes a spirit of helping each other and helping the participants feel both welcomed into a space and comfortable in the space; it takes hot tea and coffee, and food to share! It takes courage and a positive view of the future, as well as acknowledgement of the pain of the past (in the instance of residential schools and our history.) In other words, it takes tremendous thought and planning. And even though things did not go perfectly, in my view, it was a special day. And, of course, there is always room to grow and learn.

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