STONEY NAKODA – Elder Roland Rollinmud sat beaming with pride, as his latest art installation was unveiled at the Morley Community School last Thursday (Nov. 7).
Watching the students and teachers gather in the gymnasium full of drumming, dancing from the Powwow Academy and speeches from officials, to celebrate the new collaborative art installation that depicts a memory from Rollinmud's childhood, related to the traditional Sundance ceremony and Banff Indian Days, the elder said he was very impressed with the future generation, who also added their paintbrushes to the piece.
"When I was a studying [as a student] I was told a lot of things and I didn't think of it as a career path," Rollinmud said with a humble smile.
"Everything in us is a gift and it's important to share what we have, so we can motivate others to do the same ... in a way everyone has a gift."
Not always an artist, the 69-year-old said he used to be a musician before getting into a work accident that almost took three fingers from his prominent hand, prompting the Nation member to seek out alternative career paths.
After discovering his natural talent for drawing and painting, Rollinmud went on to become a prominent artist in the three-band Nation and southern Alberta artistry scene with his art displayed at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site in Banff, and more recently, the new Calgary Public Library.
After approaching Morley Community School officials last year, asking to add a mural to his existing two murals, painted in 2005 and 2012 in the school's atrium, funding was secured and it was decided the new piece would become an art installation with collaboration from the younger generation.
Siksika artist Ryan Jason Allen Willert, who has been commissioned to design art installations and murals for organizations, schools and cities across Alberta, joined the project and they recruited Grade 12 Stoney Nakoda students to add their talents to the piece.
Installed above the bleacher in the gymnasium, Willert said it was one of the best schools he worked in and he is excited to have made a piece of artwork with talented artists that can last decades.
"I was kind of nervous, but very happy with it," he said.
"If this school gets torn down, the murals will too, but this won't. This is a piece of artwork that will be around for a long time."
During his speech, Willert said the Sundance holds a special place in his heart, as it gave him the opportunity to clean up his life and find self-love.
Morley Community School art teacher Sheri Shotclose Macaulay also spoke about the importance of getting in touch with your traditional roots, as the art piece connected the teacher to her own Stoney Nakoda heritage.
"The Sundance represents ceremony and ceremony represents healing. This mural is a testimony to identity – many thanks to the creator," she said during her speech.
When asked after about how she felt about the new installation, Shotclose Macaulay said after all the hardship throughout the project, it was a relief and "felt great" to see it displayed.
While the project itself only took approximately five months, it was faced with several challenges. An artist broke their hand, Rollinmud suffered a health scare and was hospitalized and Shotclose Macaulay also lost her mother during the project – delaying the celebration to the 2019 school year.
"Our final project was to develop a community event to promote this mandate and this was a perfect fit. It was through this masters program that I, for the first time, experienced the annual gathering of Sundance and witnessed the strength and power of cultural ceremony to promote renewal, balance and wellness," Shotclose Macaulay said.
"Sundance represents ceremony and ceremony is healing and healing helps mend our communities. Along the same lines, for the school community, one of our goals is to promote Nakoda identity, and this mural is another avenue to do so."
The project was in collaboration with the artists, the Morley Community School's staff and students including the maintenance team who designed and installed the mural. Other partners included Shell Canada, Stoney Education Authority, University of Calgary and Capstone Project.
The new installation can now be viewed in the Morley Community School gymnasium, located on the Stoney Nakoda First Nation.