Edmonton Journal - Canada February 12, 2011
Mural at LRT station offensive, rider says
BY MUSTAFA FAROOQ | FREELANCE
I have a secret to admit: I love the LRT. I know some people hate it, complaining endlessly about how, in bigger cities, the subways never come late, but I personally love the feeling of crossing over the North Saskatchewan River in the LRT and seeing our beautiful city from the river valley. Recently, however, I had to get off at Grandin/Government Centre station to run an errand, and my love affair with the LRT hit a major road bump.
Having just left a class recounting the impacts of the residential schooling system on aboriginal people in Alberta, I was horrified at seeing the mural in Grandin station. Called the Bishop Vital Grandin Mural, the artwork is a celebration of residential schooling and aboriginal displacement and a historical narrative of colonialism and conversion.
Bishop Grandin was an early Catholic pioneer who arrived in Canada in 1854. He was, indeed, a seminal figure in Alberta history, but one of his most significant "contributions" was as an overseer of numerous residential schools.
To quote from a study by the University of Toronto, during the later part of the 19th century, Grandin became convinced that "attempts to civilize and evangelize native adults would have negligible results" and it would be more prudent instead to "wean children from their native lifestyle." Thus, it was because of Grandin's work that schools such as St. Joseph's at Dunbow near Calgary were set up. Today, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, working to alleviate the pain and suffering caused by the residential school system, recognizes many of Grandin's "civilizing projects," such as St. Joseph's, as residential schools, where Blackfoot children were taken away from their families and forced into an abusive system.
In a bizarre twist, though, the mural at Grandin/ Government Centre, far from decrying that history, seems to revel in it. On the accompanying plaque, which includes the signature of the City of Edmonton, it claims Grandin was a pioneer, upon whose arrival "the West was a vast wilderness." That would make sense, if the aboriginal people who had been living in Alberta for centuries before Grandin arrived were just a part of a background "wilderness" of assorted animals; indeed, according to the mural, the aboriginal people had no civilization of their own and had to thus be civilized.
In the mural, Grandin looks ahead, staring bravely into the future. Beside him, a woman wearing a crucifix holds an aboriginal baby, apparently carrying the infant away from its family. In the background, we see what is presumably the family, faceless, being escorted by another missionary to train stations.
Some might say I am misinterpreting the painting. That is possible. But here are the cold, undeniable facts: Grandin helped operate residential schools. In the painting, Grandin's female associate holds an aboriginal child, separated from family. The mural is supposed to be a celebration of this history. The mural is placed in an incredibly important place; the station is the centre for those going back and forth from the Alberta legislature. In a sense, this is a view that is seen as legitimate by the Government of Alberta and by the city. Am I the only one who feels nauseated by this?
The residential school system might be dead, but the Grandin mural continues to sing its praises in the heart of Edmonton.
Mustafa Farooq is a third-year political science honours student at the University of Alberta.
Grandin deserves a mural
BY JULIETTE CHAMPAGNE
Re: "Mural at LRT station offensive, rider says; The late Bishop Grandin's links to residential schools, colonialism don't merit celebration," by Mustafa Farooq, Ideas, Feb. 12.
Mustafa Farooq is nauseated by the Grandin mural at the LRT station? Thankfully, times have changed, but it is only very recently that rightful recognition has been given to the indigenous peoples of the world, even by our federal government.
Bishop Vital Grandin was part of a civilization that considered its way of life as best of all, an unfortunate characteristic of humanity. At the time, this colonial view was wholeheartedly supported by the Canadian government.
Remember how Chief Sitting Bull was treated? In fact, it was because of federal policies that the use of indigenous languages was discouraged in schools, policies Grandin had to submit to as well. In fact, scholars have shown that Grandin's proposed method of educating the native peoples of the Canadian northwest was categorically rejected by the federal government and that he had to base his schools on the federal model.
It was through individuals such as Grandin and other religious communities that health care, social assistance and education were brought to this part of the world, when there was no social safety net other than charity.
Who do you think cared for the sick of St. Albert during the 1870 smallpox epidemic, when, out of a population of 700, 300 died?
The oblates and the Grey Nuns helped nurse the sick and bury the dead. Grandin was there, helping and often weeping at the bedside of the dying. He had come through Fort Carleton when smallpox had struck and spent some time there caring for the sick. He returned to St. Albert to help and, upon learning that smallpox was devastating the Métis hunters and their families on the Prairies, he joined them there too, comforting, helping and doing what he could.
Granted, perhaps the mural should be reinterpreted, but it is much too easy to pin the blame for the residential schools on one individual.
Juliette Champagne, PhD, history, Edmonton
We don't need reminders
BY ELIZABETH LIGHTNING
Re: "Grandin deserves a mural," by Juliette Champagne, Letters, Feb. 17 and "Mural at LRT station offensive, rider says; The late Bishop Grandin's links to residential schools, colonialism don't merit celebration," by Mustafa Farooq, Ideas, Feb. 12.
Juliette Champagne ends her glowing letter with the words, " . much too easy to put the blame for the residential schools on one individual."
As a survivor of a residential school run by oblates, I am concerned about this mural, because it focuses on an individual and therefore misrepresents Canadian/native history.
Regardless of good works, Grandin was part of a system that perpetrated horrendous damage and suffering to native people. Whatever might have changed in Champagne's view, nothing can ever erase the cultural loss and psychological, physical and sexual abuse that occurred in these schools, precisely because the intergenerational effects still exist in native communities. This kind of history does not change, nor can it be forgotten, but neither should we be continually confronted by stereotypical images of our colonial past.
Maybe Grandin deserves to be honoured by his supporters, but do we have to have a mural in a public place, such as an LRT station? Mustafa Farooq provides evidence that images are all powerful and I appreciate his insight in this matter.
Elizabeth Lightning , PHD , Education , Edmonton
Grandin mural about living in harmony: artist
by Sylvie Nadeau, artist, author and copyright owner of the Grandin mural
RE: "Mural at LRT station offensive, rider says; The late Bishop Grandin's links to residential schools, colonialism don't merit celebration," by Mustafa Farooq, Ideas Feb. 12, and "Grandin deserves a mural," by Juliette Champagne, Letters, Feb. 17.
"I was horrified at seeing the mural in Grandin Station," said Mustafa Farooq.
In answer to that, never in my wildest dreams have I thought a spiritual journey and love-based masterpiece would find itself the object of controversy and even horrify someone.
A big thank you to Juliette Champagne, PhD history, for adjusting everyone's glasses (including mine), and giving us a clearer and more global picture of this phase of our history.
This mural was commissioned by the French Association of Alberta and created in 1989 to be offered as a gift to the City of Edmonton.
The mural was to express the journey of Bishop Grandin, his impact on our history, his relationship with our indigenous people, the contribution of the Grey Nuns, the treaties, the advent of the train and its impact on church and school locations and so on.
The late Bishop Grandin does deserve respect; so do the Grey Nuns and so does every indigenous person depicted in this mural.
This mural is about love, compassion, learning to live and build in harmony together, through mistakes if we must, a future that respects us all.
This painting is not about a woman with a crucifix, taking away a child from its parents. It's about the love, the caring and compassion for the smaller of us, protecting and helping to be part of that.
This is the spirit in which I painted this Grey Nun and the child she is holding. The child is at peace and content.
Look at every person in this painting: they have respect and self-respect.
There is more wisdom in the old wise man (indigenous person) looking into the scene, over the treaties than words can say. Only the future will tell us the results.
There is self-respect and respect of one's destiny in the indigenous woman standing by the boat in the same panel as the elderly, both looking at the train, the fort and the church there.
Look at the love in each stone that built the Grandin School, the cathedral, the church; like each step of our history, I discovered something beautiful in mankind's creation and its spirit at every stroke of the brushes, for just being more present and finally paying attention.
You might say we have paid the price to be where we are today, to be standing side by side.
As the last three panels say: we must build in harmony a present leading to a better future, not for, but with, our children, and this should be done block by block.
I speak, not to criticize, but to express the spirit in which I painted it, and what it symbolizes.
This article was found at:
Rose-coloured view lost on abuse victims
by Donita Large , residential schools adviser, Sherwood Park
Re: "Grandin mural about living in harmony: artist," by Sylvie Nadeau, Letters, March 1.
Artist Sylvie Nadeau, in describing residential schools, says, "This painting is not about a woman with a crucifix, taking away a child from its parents. It's about the love, the caring and compassion for the smaller of us, protecting and helping to be part of that. This is the spirit in which I painted this Grey Nun and the child she is holding. The child is at peace and content."
As a First Nations educator and a residential schools adviser, I have heard residential school victims consistently recount their experience of being forcibly taken away from their parents.
Being ripped from your birth family will hardly leave a child with peace and contentment in the arms of a Grey Nun.
Were there nice Grey Nuns? I am sure there were, but many Grey Nuns are also named as abusers in thousands of current residential school claims through the Indian Residential Schools Independent Assessment Process -nuns who were not parents, but guards who ruled and abused by using religion as a weapon of guilt and fear.
I don't think these indigenous children, who are now adults, would look at this mural and hold Nadeau's sentiments.
Juliette Champagne (Letters, Feb. 17) says it is "much too easy to pin the blame for the residential schools on one individual."
This is correct and I do not think anyone is saying Bishop Grandin is solely responsible.
He was, however, a part of a system that was specifically designed to eradicate the Indian in the child through legislated domination.
He was a bishop, which meant he had power and authority in this era and would have been privy to the atrocities occurring in the schools.
Perhaps Ottawa can commission an artist to create a mural that puts a positive spin on internment camps in Canada, as a lesson of building harmony through mistakes as well.
According to Nadeau, all you need to do is paint each person showing respect and self-respect even if the act itself was given an apology by the federal government, as it was wrong.
Bishop Grandin has no doubt contributed to Edmonton's and Alberta's history. If the mural had been created with the intention of honouring the victims of residential schools and the impact on the people, then there could be some respect in that choice.
But to create an image of residential schools through rose-coloured glasses perpetuates ignorance of a dark and painful past for many victims.
So it appears Mustafa Farooq's (Ideas, Feb. 12) disgust was warranted. The Grandin mural does continue to sing the praises of residential schools in the heart of Edmonton.
A mural honouring Grandin for railroads seems reasonable, but not residential schools.
This article was found at:
Canadian Indian residential school hearings identify thousands of abusers including some students who were also abused
Survivors of Indian residential schools need to tell their stories to restore self-worth after trauma of abuse
A brief history of Canadian residential schools designed to indoctrinate and assimilate aboriginal children
Canadian Truth Commission investigates fate of thousands of aboriginal children who died in mysterious circumstances
Canadian residential school Truth Commission begins to address over a century of child abuse, thousands of children still missing
‘Apology? What apology?' Church’s attempt at reconciliation not enough, says counsellor
Church-run Canadian residential schools denied human rights to all aboriginal children in their custody
'This Is How They Tortured Me' [book review]
Mothers of a Native Hell
Fugitive priest hiding in Belgium and Lourdes, France sent back to Canadian territory Nunavut to face sex abuse charges
Canadian priest convicted of pedophilia, wanted by Interpol for 15 years, surrenders in Belgium but authorities let him go
Pope expresses 'sorrow' for abuse at residential schools - but doesn't apologize
When will church learn lessons about abuse scandals?