BANFF – A returning mural and mentorship project at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site is now open for applications to Indigenous artists with strong ties to the site and surrounding area.
In collaboration with Parks Canada, the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies is seeking up to three Indigenous artists to create temporary murals on eight-by-eight foot wooden boxes to be displayed prominently on the grounds of the Cave and Basin, and tucked away in the winter.
“To have Parks approach us for help to do this work, I thought was very significant, because in my mind, it’s a way of actively promoting reconciliation in a way that they’re wanting to know the stories of Indigenous peoples – First Nations and Métis, and their stories of this place,” said Dawn Saunders Dahl, project lead and Whyte Museum Indigenous relations and programs manager.
“It’s really important to acknowledge that Indigenous peoples haven’t always shared all these stories because they don’t feel appreciated, or the stories get changed, or money is made after ... it’s so important to build trust.”
In addition to the murals sharing significant stories of Indigenous peoples, the project is very much built with the intent to mentor artists, including teaching them how to spray paint, what paints to use on mural surfaces, how to access archives for historical reference and inspiration, and ensuring artists understand their rights as artists – to be paid and treated fairly.
Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda artist Gordon Wesley, of Goodstoney First Nation, participated in the murals project last year. He called the opportunity to work and display his art within Banff National Park an honour.
The Cave and Basin is a site that has been a special place to Indigenous peoples for over ten thousand years and continues to be to this day.
“It’s part of our territory, and these mountains, they’re like home to us,” he said. “And with that, the project felt also like a fair and equal exchange with the offer of training.”
Wesley’s mural, called These Mountains Are Our Sacred Places, is named after former Goodstoney First Nation Chief John Snow Jr.’s book of the same name. The mural draws inspiration from many of the real people and stories mentioned in the book, some of whom Wesley shares a relation to.
The artist chose to paint ancestors important to the Îyârhe Nakoda in the sky, enveloped in colours representing light in the morning and evening – blue, pink, orange and yellow.
Sitting Eagle, who was once a guide for the first settlers to arrive in Banff and is also Wesley’s great-grandfather, overlooks Mînî Hrpa (Cascade Mountain) in one section of the mural.
In his artist statement after the project was unveiled, Wesley said he hoped viewers would be inspired by his mural to pause, be at peace, and reflect – much like one would do while looking at a sun-soaked sky at sunrise or sunset.
Wesley was selected along with two other artists from Kainai and Tsuut’ina Nations. The call is open in 2023 to all Indigenous artists, aged 18 and older, from Îyârhe Nakoda, including from Goodstoney, Bearspaw and Chiniki First Nations; the Blackfoot Confederacy, including Siksika, Kainai, Piikani and Tsuut’ina First Nations; Ktunaxa and Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nations in B.C., and the Métis community.
Saunders Dahl said the project is a unique opportunity for the artists to learn, while also creating meaningful representation.
“I know that there’s so many talented Indigenous artists who mostly just show at powwows or in their inner circles, and it’s very rare for them to be picked up by a gallery,” she said. “It’s happening more often now, but it’s been a challenge.
“I hope Indigenous artists who feel and are connected to this place are inspired to apply, and that we can keep this project going into the future.”
The deadline for artists to apply is Feb. 27 and an information session will be hosted over Zoom Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. Selection priority will be given to artists who apply from the identified Nations, who have yet to share their stories.
Saunders Dahl is also in search of administrative support to assist with research and coordination of the project. For more information, visit whyte.org.
The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. The position covers Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation and Kananaskis Country.