Residential schools memorial sculpture ‘encapsulates the spirit of reconciliation’

A memorial sculpture honouring those lost and affected by the residential school system is giving Winnipeggers a new gathering place for truth and reconciliation.

The Every Child Matters memorial art project was unveiled Friday at Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, 445 King Street. Supporting event coordinator Katie McKenzie said it was a morning full of meaningful experiences.

“(We had) some speakers sharing some teachings about courage – which was our theme today – because we feel that it really takes a lot of courage for youth to take these next steps toward reconciliation,” said McKenzie. “We want them to know that they’re a part of this too and that they can have a space and a voice.”

The memorial sculpture was carved out of Manitoba marble by artist Irvin Head Sr., who passed away in August. His son Irvin Head Jr. says the unveiling was bittersweet.

“My father spent his last couple months of his life making sure that it was to his own rigorous standards and that it was his last project,” said Head Jr.

He says the sculpture encapsulates the spirit of reconciliation in the only way that his father could do it – through stone, “it shows off a whole bunch of his trademark aphorisms and different ways he made it his own,” said Head Jr.

The sculpture uses different textures of marble to convey a message about residential schools. “(The) roughness of the stone symbolizes the quagmire of colonization, the way our people were taken away from their ancestral lands, taught things that weren’t natural to them,” he said.

Head Jr. points out little footsteps that lead up from the rough part of the sculpture into the polished part, “Rising up from the bottom of the sculpture are footprints of a new generation that have been polished. They’re trying to become clean from the effects of colonization,” he said.

The capstone of the sculpture is a turtle to symbolize Turtle Island. Head Jr. said it includes a smudge bowl that anyone can use, “The community can come by, gather around it, use it as a part of their ceremony,” he said.

Head Jr. is reminded of his father every time he looks at the sculpture.

“He would always say he puts a little bit of himself in his artwork, and I can totally feel that now,” he said. “The wisdom of the turtle, it makes me feel like I’m looking at him straight in the face.”

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