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Chiniki College shares Stoney Nakoda culture on art walk

“It was important for the students, they really wanted some Nakoda language in there to help teach the community different Stoney words."

CANMORE – Weaving together traditional teachings with the modern pop aesthetic of street art, a group of Chiniki College students have created a one-of-a-kind mural for the 2020 Art Walk in the Woods.

The piece "dagunenâ ktûtha giya" (“everything happens on the fourth time around!”) was the result of a collaboration between the students and Edmonton based street artist and muralist AJA Louden – together they built, painted and installed a two-and-a-half metre by two-and-a-half metre wooden cube for Art Walk in The Woods.

“One of my goals as a muralist and an educator is to use the learning that I have, in terms of painting large scale murals and these big walls that can communicate with the public, are taking those skills and sharing them so that people in communities like Stoney can create their own murals,” Louden said. “They don’t need to bring in someone else to create something – that was a successful part of this project we were able to build some skills.”

Before the artists began designing the box, knowledge keeper Buddy Wesley was brought in to share teachings from Stoney Nakoda culture.

“We wanted to base the box around some of those teachings and try and find a way to express these ideas through art,” Louden said.

About 15 students participated in the project, including a core of ten students who participated every day helping from start to finish over five days.

“One of my favourite thing about working with the class, in particular, was how many of the people spoke the Stoney language,” Louden said. “It’s really cool to be able to hear that much Stoney language spoken.”

The artist said he hopes when people visit the Art Walk in the Woods they can appreciate how the mural celebrates the beauty of Stoney language and culture.

“I know that there are going to be a lot of international visitors to Canmore over the next couple of months, the idea for us was to provide a space where an international visitor could come into Canmore, see who’s land this was, whose territory it was and get a sense of the language, even just a visual sense,” Louden said. “The idea was able to share some Stoney Nakoda culture with both people who have lived in the area for years and maybe hadn’t had that shared with them and also for all these international visitors.

Dawn Saunders Dahl, Indigenous program manager for the Whyte Museum said "dagunenâ ktûtha giya" is one of many workshops she has planned as part of her Building Bridges: Rebuilding the Cultural Trade Route program.

The piece is an opportunity to start a conversation and she is grateful for the support offered by the Town of Canmore, Saunders Dahl said, while allowing students to become teachers on their own.

“I’m trying to help them with that and bring in other artists who are teachers too, so they are getting a broad exposure on how people teach,” Saunders Dahl said, explaining that they collaborate with Indigenous and non-Indigenous teachers. “I’m trying to give them the opportunity for growth and continued relationship building.”

Before creating "dagunenâ ktûtha giya," Saunders Dahl started creating landscape and portrait work with students to collaborate and learn where their interests lay.

She said she was able to connect with artists to find out where their interests lay and introduced students to her past collaborator Louden.

It was amazing seeing the students work, Saunders Dahl said, especially because it brought together people of all ages.

The finished mural is based on the colours of the Nakoda medicine wheel, celebrates the four seasons and the beauty of the Nakoda language.

“It was important for the students, they really wanted some Nakoda language in there to help teach the community different Stoney words,” Saunders Dahl said, adding the hands that appear on the mural are based on the hands of each student.

"Dagunenâ ktûtha giya" was made possible through a collaboration with Chiniki College, Louden, the Whyte Museum, the Town of Canmore and the Calgary Foundation.

"Dagunenâ ktûtha giya" is one of six pieces featured in this year’s Art Walk in the Woods, Town of Canmore arts and culture coordinator Nicky Pacas said.

It is an exciting year as it will be the first time installations will be appearing on the new Legacy Trail extension that leads up to the Canmore Nordic Centre.

“Our idea behind this project was to have artwork in unexpected places,” Pacas said. “It helps people think about what art is, how it can enhance space and how the artwork can speak to space.”

When the call was made for artists to submit projects, Pacas said, they were asked to consider using natural or used materials along with ideas of movement and the environment.

Artists Lesley Russell, Cedar Mueller, Kari Woo, Calgary Based artist Michelena Bamford and Calgary based Studio North have installed pieces for Art Walk in the Woods, Pacas said. "Dagunenâ ktûtha giya" is unique in comparison to other installations on the trail because it is the only one that is painted.

The exhibition is temporary, she added, and nothing was touched or destroyed during the installation of projects.

Art Walk in the Woods is collaborating with the 2020 Alberta Cross Country World Cup to encourage people to explore the trail when they go to see races during the event.

“It’s a great way to keep your head up and take a look at your surroundings,” Pacas said. “The art was placed in the spaces for the enjoyment of people walking up the trail.”

Art Walk in the Woods will be on display until April 12. During the World Cup guests will have the opportunity to participate in artist and volunteer-led hikes on the trail to learn more about the art installation.

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Chelsea Kemp

About the Author: Chelsea Kemp

Chelsea Kemp joined the Cochrane Eagle in 2020 as editor, bringing with her experience as a reporter and photojournalist. She writes about politics, health care, arts and entertainment and Indigenous stories.
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