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Academic News

New mural aims to ignite spiritual connections for Indigenous students

January 21, 2020

A new mural at Red River College’s Paterson GlobalFoods Institute aims to create an inviting space where Indigenous students can feel inspired, represented and connected to their history.

Indigenous achievement is one of the main pillars of the College’s strategic themes and goals, and is taken into an account during space planning at all campuses. Just this year, nearly two dozen suites were reserved for Indigenous students at PGI’s student residences in the Exchange District to help address housing issues faced by Indigenous students, especially those who’ve relocated to Winnipeg for their studies.

With more Indigenous students than ever living at PGI, it was important for the College to ensure visual representation. The building already features design motifs depicting the seven sacred teachings, and now an original mural designed by Juno Awardwinning artist Gwiiwizenz Dewe’igan — whose English name is David Dorian Boulanger — adorns the walls of a gathering room where students can study and socialize.

“Art saves lives,” says Boulanger. “I know because it saved my life and I have seen the profound impact it has on the Indigenous youth I have worked with.”

Flowing landscapes, a burnt orange sky, a coiling river, and stunning portraits in monotone blues cover every wall of the gathering room. The more time you spend in the space, the more images and words in different languages you’ll find.

“The walls are supposed to be touched. It’s supposed to feel like you’re in a cave studying,” says Boulanger. “Each wall has a meaning. When you’re interacting with it, you’re learning. There are Annishabemowin words in here, there are syllabics, there are buffalo on the prairies, there’s a Sundance tree, a golden eagle, the little people, water and fish.”
By using mediums such as plaster, water colours and paints, Boulanger was able to create textured finishes and carvings that make for an interactive mural, which students are more than welcome to touch and feel.

“I touched everything and made every mark with my own hands. It feels like it was etched into a cave or stone. You come in here, you rub your hand on the wall and you go back in time. I hope something is going to happen for students.”

Boulanger painted three portraits so that students will see themselves in the artwork. There’s a male warrior, a female (inspired by a photo of Elvis Presley’s Cherokee great-great-grandmother, Morning Dove White) and Louis Riel, as an homage to Manitoba’s Métis history. Even Boulanger’s young daughters had a hand in painting the mural, an ongoing tradition he started so they can see their own gifts being shared.

The artist hopes the mural will be part of students’ personal journeys to reconciliation, and to finding connections to cultural pride and language revitalization.

“In being selected to create this mural, it was my honour to incorporate the language of these lands, with the help of my Aunt Annie, who has always expressed the importance of our language. My hope is that this space will inspire you to find yourself through your language, which will in turn help you, as it has helped me, experience my own narrative as an Anishinaabeg.”

“Our young people are going to rise up strong again. It’s going to be epic when that spirit comes back.”