By Susan Hickman
When seven-year-old Laurick Corriveau explained the concept behind his simple drawing of a parent and child holding hands, Carleton PhD candidate Trina Cooper-Bolam was touched by the unsophisticated yet powerful argument behind his words.
The Grade 2 Yukon boy was the youngest of 10 students honoured March 1 at a ceremony at Rideau Hall as recipients of Imagine a Canada, a national art and essay competition organized by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR).
“Even though there were high profile people at the event,” said Cooper-Bolam of the ceremony at the Governor General’s residence, “the emphasis remained on the children, their work and the explanations behind their work. Laurick, whose artwork addressed the child welfare system, suggested that taking children away is not the answer, rather, better supporting parents to meet the needs of their children is. It’s a very clear argument.”
The national initiative invited school children and post-secondary undergraduates to share their thoughts, through their works of art, poetry, film, video or traditional essays, on what a reconciled Canada could look like.
Following a series of youth-oriented roundtable discussions, Corriveau and other Imagine a Canada recipients met with Governor General Right Hon. David Johnston and participated in an award ceremony.
Another recipient, Grade 12 Métis-Cree student Megan Benoit of Surrey, B.C., submitted an abstract work called Medicinal Healing. Megan’s multimedia work, based on a medicine wheel, bears both wounds created by the institutional racism practiced by the Canadian government and attempts at healing, represented by stitches that while closing the wounds will leave scars, reminding us of our shared history.
Benoit participated in a roundtable discussion oriented around her work at Tuesday’s ceremony. The roundtable, attended by an Elder and residential school Survivor, several other students from across Canada, and moderated by Cooper-Bolam who also served on the national review panel for the awards, discussed Benoit’s work as a jumping off point for a larger discussion on the need for reconciliation and for safe spaces for everyone to be able to express their cultural identity.
As a doctoral student in Carleton’s Cultural Mediations program, Cooper-Bolam is exploring historical representations of difficult histories – such as Indian residential schools – in museums and galleries. Her fellow students, Christina Williamson, Wahsontiio Cross and Stacy Ernst, participated in a roundtable discussion with another recipient, Robin Chokomolin of the Wahgoshig First Nation, who plans to study the indigenous wellness and addictions prevention program at North Bay’s Canadore College in September. Chokomolin’s poem speaks of her wish to return to her community to free her peers from their addictions.
Ernst, who is studying specific artists active in Canada between 1970 and 1995, said much of the conversation around the table centred on ways to approach learning opportunities that would lead to reconciliation.
“The conversation took on added significance when we discovered three of us at the table had young children,” said Ernst. “This reminded me why the difficult task of truth and reconciliation must be undertaken.”
The event, said Ernst, “was a heartfelt reminder of the potential for positive change that comes with teaching and I hope to be a part of that change.”
Williamson’s research concentrates on indigenous women’s labour in Canada, work that allows her, “as a non-indigenous settler woman, to decolonize myself and participate in the reconciliation process.”
She felt a responsibility to listen to the young Imagine a Canada recipients share their visions of reconciliation and to participate in the reconciliation process outside the academic sphere.
“The event on (March 1) was invigorating. I was particularly pleased to see young indigenous people in Rideau Hall, the symbolic home of both the British Crown and the British colonial rule, standing in front of the Governor General and proudly demanding that their treaty rights be honoured . . . and that they have support in the healing process.”
The occasion, added Cooper-Bolam, “provided an opportunity to interact with youth, to engage in dialogue on reconciliation and to get out of the ‘research bubble’. It makes research active, and a living thing.”
Right Hon. Johnston told the competitors, “You’re helping us imagine a better Canada. Hundreds of years ago, the very first conversation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples took place. Today, we continue that conversation. Talking, and listening, and sharing, and dreaming together—that’s how we’ll heal, and that’s how we’ll move towards reconciliation.”