Bee Kosmoski painted a woman’s eye surrounded by purple bruising, with a single tear drop falling from it, on the right side of the mural.
The theme of the mural is systemic causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls.
“I was upset over a lot of it at first,” said Kosmoski, a Métis Grade 11 student from Archbishop O’Leary High School in Edmonton, who learned about the topic at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Edmonton. “After a while, I felt like this was something I had to do in order for other people to understand what was going on.”
Kosmoski was one of the 22 students from Archbishop O’Leary and Kipohtakaw Education Centre on Alexander First Nation who attended the hearing on Nov. 9, 2017 at the Edmonton Inn and Conference Centre. While there, they created the mural Kosmoski worked on, as well as three others.
The murals travelled across Canada with the inquiry. With no further community hearings scheduled, the murals are in the inquiry’s legacy archive in Winnipeg. Once complete, the legacy archive will be made public, including in a digital format.
“I hope there are less women who are going missing and being murdered and I hope there’s more justice for families,” Kosmoski said.
Raylene Hunter, an educator at Kipohtakaw Education Centre and one of the facilitators of the project, noted that as young Indigenous peoples, many of the students who participated in the painting could be at-risk themselves.
“The moment that they leave their homes, they are at risk. They’re at risk being out in the community, they’re at risk going into urban centres based on the colour of their skin.There are so many stigmas and stereotypes attached to being a First Nations person,” Hunter said. “A lot of these kids that go to the school know that. They read the stories.”
Hunter said it was important for the students from the more rural Kipohtakaw Education Centre to partner with urban Indigenous students from Archbishop O’Leary.
“Working together as a collective, really, I believe, inspired them to be more connected,” Hunter said. “It’s possible to make change.”
Violence, racism, justice and resilience
The students explored not only systemic violence, but the roles of also racism and stereotyping as well as policing and the justice system, through their art.
Julia Babiak, Métis and in Grade 11 at Archbishop O’Leary, contributed a tree with branches growing out around heart to the mural started by the group looking at policing and the justice system.
She became interested in the topic two year earlier, upon learning more than 30 Indigenous women in Val d’Or, Que. alleged abuse by law enforcement officials.
“It’s just disgusting,” Babiak said. “The police, the law, they’re supposed to protect you.”
Another group of students considered the strength of Indigenous peoples, creating a piece on resistance, resilience and resurgence.
Kylie Moisan, a Grade 11 Métis student from Archbishop O’Leary, painted an Indigenous woman on that one.
“My meaning was overcoming and reconciliation of how you can heal after all the experiences and trauma,” Moisan said.
Hunter said that more male students than female students from Kipohtakaw Education Centre participated in the project.
“We took the approach of them becoming future fathers themselves and honouring their mothers and their grandmothers as well as looking at awareness for the females in their lives,” Hunter said. “
For the families
The students hope that families and friends of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls find comfort in their murals.
“I hope that they feel that there are people who are understanding what they’re going through and who are speaking out for them,” Kosmoski said. “We are the next generation and we are the next people who are going to be impacted by it.”
Babiak said she thinks the murals send a powerful message.
“People express how they feel in different ways. Some people can’t express through words so instead they do art,” Babiak said. “I think that anyone Indigenous or non-Indigenous can somewhat connect to those paintings.
“It’s important because people usually look at Indigenous issues as not being a big deal, but really it is. We’re all people. We all have families and if this was someone else, it wouldn’t be a joke, so it’s not for us.”