Cree artist says working on mural for Thompson mall helped her to process painful experience
A Cree artist from Cross Lake, Man., says working on a mural for a Thompson mall helped her process a painful experience of discrimination.
The piece, titled Nature versus Nurture, was unveiled April 17 as the new mural at Thompson’s City Centre Mall in northern Manitoba. The painted mural is based on the Haudenosaunee creation story of the Sky Woman.
Artist Christine McKay, 26, has been reconnected with her culture, but said she had a painful interaction last year around this.
“Somebody called me a savage … ironically, on Truth and Reconciliation day … I’ve just been wrestling with it,” said McKay, who is a member of Pimicikamak Cree Nation.
They were “very condescending about the fact that I am reconnecting with my culture … I’ve just been struggling with that all year.”
In the mural, a woman is surrounded by blue sky and green forest, and wears a dress that contains several different animals including a turtle, a bear and a wolf, among others.
The piece also has the woman’s face detached from her head, revealing a starry night and campfire underneath, which carries a deeper meaning for the artist.
“The woman’s face is disconnected from the body to show that the Indigenous people were once broken,” said McKay. “But [it’s] slowly being healed by establishing a reconnection to the land and different aspects of culture and ceremony.”
Mural helped process feelings
McKay’s dad Bobby Queskekapow, was at the unveiling.
“When we first heard about it,” he said. “It was just, like, unbelievable … for something like this, it’s very emotional for me.”
Queskekapow said that even though McKay had her struggles, he had no doubt in her abilities.
McKay said the piece helped her feel more confident in her work and gave her the chance to process the painful exchange from last year.
The mural “kind of helped me with what I was feeling,” she said. “I think I needed to just let it out.”
McKay entered her mural idea into a contest hosted by Strathallen, owners of the City Centre Mall, and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak. Her piece was chosen in August 2022, and now hangs in the mall’s centre court entrance.
McKay said that the piece can have multiple meanings to multiple people, but to her it is about connection.
“I think it’s mostly about connection,” she said. “To feel connected with everything.”
Chief, elder celebrate mural
Others at the unveiling ceremony were thrilled to see McKay’s piece, including Chief Angela Levasseur of Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation.
“I believe that [McKay’s] beautiful mural will touch people’s hearts and will help them to find that reconnection, that longing they’re feeling for home and for the land,” she said.
Elder Jack Robinson also noted how far Indigenous artists have come.
“It’s very good to see something like this happening with our Indigenous people,” he said.
While younger generations are reconnecting with their culture, Robinson lived through the time when ceremonies were banned by the federal government.
To see the next generations, especially young people, reconnecting means a lot to Robinson.
“I see young people getting involved in their own cultures,” he said. “Dancers and the singers … It’s really, really good.”
McKay received a $1,000 payment from Strathallen, which was then matched by a surprise $1,000 donation from MKO. McKay said she’ll be putting the money toward rent and bills.
Moving forward, McKay wants to keep creating new pieces, with this recent mural being something that sparked the creation process inside of her.
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