A planned mural for the side of the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre building to honour Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) has been put on hold until spring.
The project, dubbed “At the Heart” had faced delays right from the start, as COVID-19 forced organizers to come up with a new plan to do the consultation between the families of local women and the artists, which had been scheduled to begin in April.
Nevertheless, consultation proceeded during the summer with a modified workshop schedule with separate sessions for the various families instead of large group events.
Sandra Harris, a Wet’suwet’en Indigenous Focusing Complex Trauma (IFOT) practitioner, facilitated the in-depth workshops, three for each family group.
The first involved providing the families with background on murals and their importance in societies, creating “mind maps” to explore what they mean to the stakeholders and exploring colours and symbolism.
From there, they moved on to forming connections and collective agreement on the At the Heart mural, sharing everyone’s stories, looking for healing strategies and creating vision boards.
In Workshop 3, the families presented their vision boards to the artists and focussed on finding commonalities among the boards and strategizing about garnering wider community involvement in the context of the pandemic.
Artists from Raven-Tacuara, a Northwest B.C. art collective comprising four Indigenous artists, most recently responsible for the new mural on the side of the pool buidling in Smithers, were involved every step of the way.
Brenda Wilson, whose 16-year-old sister Ramona Wilson was murdered in 1994 and her body found a year later near the Smithers airport, was very impressed with the process.
“I’m happy that the Friendship Centre has the project and the way that they’re doing things has been great, like involving the families, asking their opinions, so it’s been a great venture with everybody being involved rather than just the organization doing it on their own,” she said.
The friendship centre society had been optimistic the mural could be painted in the fall, but unusually wet and cool weather prevented them from going ahead.
“After doing some research and talking to experts (stucco and painters in town), we have been advised that painting a primer directly over the stucco would be risky as generally, concrete needs up to 28 days to seal; otherwise, the paint would peel,” said Elmira Sanati Nia, a holistic health worker for the friendship centre.
“It is our goal to make sure the mural is long-lasting.”
Lydia Howard, the society’s housing advisor, said they do have a design, but they will be keeping it under wraps until closer to the time painting gets under way.
The project was made possible by a grant from the federal government’s MMIWG Commemoration Fund.
The fund was one of the recommendations that came out of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls of which the final report was released in June 2019.
More than 100 projects were approved under the fund including a Highway of Tears commemorative totem pole that was recently erected on Hwy 16 near Terrace.
Meanwhile, Dze L K’ant is looking for public input.
“At the Heart” mural project recognizes the power of public art to heal and grow communities,” stated a society release. “We wish
to provide all community members with an opportunity to be involved in this project and show their support.”
People wishing to send a message to the families may do so by picking up a form at the friendship centre on Main Street at Second Ave. or online at www.dzelkant.com/news/mmiwg-mural-project.