ATHENS – The sun broke through the rain clouds on Monday morning as a prominent First Nations leader joined locals in marking National Indigenous Peoples Day.
Annually, June 21 is a day to reflect on and recognize the history of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
"We're honouring, respecting and showing support to our First Nations brothers and sisters," said Diane Godwin-Sheridan, who worked alongside her husband, Dave Sheridan, to touch up a mural on the wall of Athens Fresh Market.
Mary Lynn Baker originally painted the 90-foot-long scene of the town's landmarks and history in 1994. The Sheridans say they are creating a new mural with Baker's work as the guide.
While the Sheridans are working on the entirety of the mural, they wanted to unveil the 10-by-10 section that they have renamed "First Nations Market" in respect of Indigenous Peoples Day.
"I've looked into the artwork that has been used in the Truth and Reconciliation committee, and their specific designs and lettering styles used as logos for that committee and I've integrated them into the mural itself," said David.
"It is a tribute to the history of Athens and they're trying to keep it alive as well," he added.
"It's just been delightful for me to be a part of, for Diane as well, to continue to strengthen the looks of the murals that are existing."
They are within a week of completing their painting.
"I didn’t have the time to completely finish it by June 21; the motivation for Monday's event was to strictly show respect and honour the Native people of Canada."
Elmer St. Pierre, National Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, had only ever driven through Athens once before and says this was his first time seeing the mural. He thinks it was a great idea.
"A lot of people came up and thanked us, they enjoyed everything. I spoke with the mayor and MPP about having something next year."
Athens Mayor Herb Scott invited them back to celebrate at a larger scale at a nearby field that has a pavilion and seating for guests, COVID permitting.
St. Pierre's children and grandchildren performed dancing and drumming in front of the mural, as roughly 20 community members watched. St. Pierre's daughter-in-law, Yessica Rivera Belsham, sing Tonantzin, a song in the Nahuatl language, while family danced around her.
"It's very much about honouring all mothers, Mother Earth and this one was in tribute today in honouring the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and the two-spirit people as well," Belsham continued.
"It's about honouring the little ones as well, the 215, plus the more that are being discovered. It's honouring that connection to every breath of life, and our ancestors and connection to Mother Earth."
She was referring to the recent sad discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children at a former residential school in Kamloops, BC.
Among the attendees were Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes MPP Steve Clark and Scott.
"Events like this today on Indigenous Persons day is very important as a part of the reconciliation process. Just last week the Premier and Minister Rickford announced a 10-million-dollar package regarding reconciliation around some of the residential schools,” said Clark, referring to Greg Rickford, the province's Indigenous affairs minister.
"It's very important that we as a province step up and become a part of the reconciliation."
Jessica Munro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times