STONEY NAKODA – A set of new murals at Chiniki Community College are looking to honour the past while celebrating the future of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation.
Artist Danita Phelan was chosen to help bring the murals to Chiniki after completing a three-month substitute teaching role at the college. While at the campus, Phelan said she forged a relationship with the students and elders.
“One of the students had actually said to me that they thought the college looked like a residential school and they didn’t feel that it was a welcoming space to be,” she said.
Phelan hails from Australia and has done extensive work in her home country in and England on community arts projects. She was able to secure funding from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts allowing the mural project to gain momentum.
The art project boasts three new murals at the college.
The first greets visitors when they arrive at Chiniki College depicting teepees and the mountains. The second mural is at the entrance foyer and has three images celebrating elders and the people of the past, students of today and children of the future. Embedded in the mural are the seven teachings of the Stoney Nation.
“The seven teachings are important because they’re things like wisdom and truth and courage and so on,” Phelan said. “We wanted that to be an inspirational foyer – it looks really beautiful.”
The last mural is located in the downstairs classroom areas and depicts important Stoney Nakoda cultural items.
Phelan said the murals look incredible and surpassed everyone's expectations. The key, she said, is that they were a collaboration between all the Nations in Stoney Nakoda.
“We’ve had elders who have made unbelievable contributions from a culture perspective and a historical perspective,” Phelan said. “It’s respectful of culture and a reflection of culture for future students who come here."
Before beginning work on the piece, Phelan and Chiniki College students developed the images to feature on the wall based on conversations with other Nation members.
Phelan said a series of workshops took place to talk about the images that reflected the Rocky Mountains, wildlife and the Stoney Nations. Nation members were then asked to mark images they loved or felt did not belong on a mural.
Once the designs were finalized, she and her students began painting.
Originally, the plan was for students to have as much ownership and opportunity to work on the paintings as possible, Phelan said, but this mission was complicated by COVID-19 public health measures put in place.
“The college shut down at the beginning of March and we haven’t had students in the building,” Phelan said. “But, we were able to have students participate a lot up to that point.”
Some students have been able to return to help complete the art project. One of the biggest contributors has been Chiniki College student Jarron Poucette.
It has been fun working on the project, Poucette said, because he has never worked on a project this big.
The best part has been working on the sketches and planning out what the murals would look like when painted on the walls.
It was fun seeing the small parts they worked on come together in the murals, he said, adding he appreciated how the artwork speaks to both the past, present and future.
“People will get a good feeling out of it when they come to the school,” Poucette said.