SHERBROOKE – A veritable who’s who of Indigenous and political leaders from across Nova Scotia gathered to mark the opening of the fifth annual Indigenous art exhibit at Historic Sherbrooke Village on July 25.
But while new acts of creation may have brought them here to celebrate under sunny skies, something just as durable kept them standing, shoulder-to-shoulder, before a capacity crowd of residents and artists: history and sense of healing was in the air.
“The last three months have been a very difficult time for Indigenous people in Canada,” Canadian Senator Daniel Christmas, a senior advisor to Membertou Mi’kmaw Nation, told the audience.
“Our global image as a defender or protector of basic human rights in the world has been seriously tarnished. But our own perception of ourselves has changed as well, and many Canadians have expressed their shame and their embarrassment,” he said. “The arts are so valuable when it comes to tragedy, to the need for healing and for reconciliation.”
Those gathered were surrounded by original works by Indigenous artists who have been contributing since the first event launched at the living museum’s Indigenous Art Centre under the auspices of the Sherbrooke Restoration Commission in 2017.
Acknowledging Christmas as a “tough act to follow,” Central Nova Member of Parliament Sean Fraser took to the rostrum and spoke about his experience growing up minutes away from Pictou Landing First Nation.
“It’s incredible to me that we have had this history before our eyes and yet we have not been able to see it,” he said, adding: “We see it now. People are looking for ways to help contribute to reconciliation. I have great hope, because I sense that the public has reached a place that, even if politicians wanted to forestall reconciliation, I do not think they can anymore.”
Throughout the gathering – which included MLA Lloyd Hines (Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie), Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston (Pictou East), Councillor and former Chief of Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation Kerry Prosper – heads nodded in agreement.
“It’s great to see this facility [Indigenous Arts Centre] here because the road to reconciliation has got to include the culture,” Hines said in an interview following the event. “And the culture was probably the piece that was most ignored.”
Indeed, said exhibit organizer Marlis Lade, “Here, the artist can spend time and be proud and we are blessed to work together with them and celebrate. The recent sad news has touched all of us to the core of our being. But, in this beautiful centre will do everything we can to learn more. We directly benefit from that relationship.”
Added Sherbrooke Restoration Commissioner Marg Hartwell: “We wish to thank the artists from across the country that have contributed to this collection. Your work is moving and speaks of cultures. We received comments from visitors expressing appreciation for your work. You clearly make an impression, especially in these times. We wish more you could be with us here today to hear the appreciation yourselves. Our visitors are most reflective after seeing your work.”
Last to address the audience was Prosper. Gesturing to the variety of artworks on display, he said: “When I look at our Indigenous connection, we’ve been here for thousands of years. And through that time, we become a part of everything. Each and every one of you serve Indigenous countries. And you all have the same connection. We just happen to be a part of this land here.”
The Indigenous Art Centre in Sherbrooke is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Some items on display are for sale.
Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal