Memorial Art Sculpture Unveiled in Tribute to Survivors of Residential Schools

TRC Day Winnipeg

WINNIPEG – INDIGENOUS – Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre unveiled the Memorial Art Sculpture at the Gathering Place for Truth and Reconciliation (445 King Street) on Friday during Orange Shirt Day.

The artwork created by Irvin Head, the main focus of the Memorial Art Sculpture is a large Turtle. The work is a tribute piece in response to “Every Child Matters” as a reminder of 94 calls to action towards reconciliation. The work also represents the Turtle’s offspring of 7 generations of Indigenous children that will lead and carry the knowledge and ways of knowing through prayer and medicine offered through the smudging ceremony and prayer to the ancestors and the Indigenous children and families of residential school survivors.

We are thrilled to unveil the completed memorial art installation, as the concept was originally presented to the community at the 2021 event. This piece was designed and created by artist Irvin Head from Cranberry Portage, Manitoba. Unfortunately, Irvin fell ill in the last few months of working on the piece and has since passed on to the spirit world before it could be completed. He did, however, have many family and community members as well as other artists who were able to continue the project and carry on his legacy.”  – Kathleen McKenzie, Supporting Event Coordinator

The piece also features:

  • Footprints of children’s moccasins leading the way around the base of the carving, and up the back toward the smudge bowl
  • 13 panels on the Turtle’s back representing the 13 moon cycles
  • The Turtle is surrounded by her offspring of smaller turtles that are following her teachings. The one Turtle on her back is appearing to disguise itself as a shell panel, representing the constant connection and inherited bloodline connection to the mother.
  • The bear paw is a common symbol used within Irvin’s carvings. The bear in Cree culture stands for courage. Irvin created many bear carvings. It was a common theme and subject in his work. A mama bear and her cubs also made themselves present the same day as Irvin’s celebration of life.
  • There is an indented concave panel at the top of the turtle designed to be directly used as a smudge bowl or for a smudge bowl to sit on top. This feature is subtle, allowing for different individuals to place their own smudge bowl, no matter the size, within and on that space, depending on the individuals preference.
The piece was designed to be functional so that all members of the community can use it and have it as a space to come together while connecting with others and their culture.

The inspiration for the art piece began in September 2021, when the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre embarked on a journey of Truth and Reconciliation. A call to action was sent to schools and youth in Manitoba to send in tobacco ties with handwritten messages describing what Every Child Matters means to them. In response, more than 500 handwritten messages and tobacco ties were received from youth around the province.

On September 30th, 2021, a community event was held to honour the found children of Canada’s Residential Schools. The event was hosted at our Gathering Place for Truth and Reconciliation with more than 125 community members and youth involved. A Sacred Fire was held to offer the tobacco ties that were submitted by the youth. The handwritten messages were saved and kept as inspiration for the Memorial Art Sculpture. In addition, the messages were made into decals that have been placed on the windows at the Gathering Place for Truth and Reconciliation located at 445 King Street.

“The execution of this piece was not only spiritually uplifting and emotional, but very and educational as I journeyed into a realm of art application that I am not overly familiar with. With that said, my years of knowing Irvin has given me the advantage of knowing what it may take to complete his vision. I am very familiar with his work, his approach, and the significant meanings and teachings within Irvin’s Art. I had a feeling that once I was familiar with the tools that I would surely be able to complete the piece,” shared Jasyn Lucas, the artist who completed Irvin Head’s Memorial Art Sculpture.

“I want to thank Irvin, Lisa and family for including in me in the completion of Irvin’s vision for this very special carving. Thank you Irvin and George Nadeau for all your hard work. Thank you to everyone who helped complete and polish the piece when I was finished my part. It is and has been an absolute honour,” shared Lucas.

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