National Arts Centre examines reconciliation

Sharon Johnston, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau and former prime minister Joe Clark at a panel discussion on art and reconciliation. Photo: Art Babych
Sharon Johnston, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau and former prime minister Joe Clark at a panel discussion on art and reconciliation. Photo: Art Babych
Published January 18, 2016

The National Arts Centre (NAC) has launched a series of events that it hopes will “shine the spotlight on Indigenous storytelling and reconciliation.”

The event, which launched January 14 with an exhibition, 100 Years of Loss, followed by a panel discussion on art and reconciliation, was the NAC’s response to a statement in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that “artists have a profound contribution to make in expressing both truth and reconciliation.”

First Nation Elder Annie Smith-St. Georges led the smudging ceremony and officially opened the exhibition, created by the Legacy of Hope Foundation (LHF), a national Indigenous, charitable organization aimed at educating, raising awareness and understanding of the legacy of residential schools.

The exhibition-held in the main lobby of the NAC-uses archival photographs and documents, first-person testimonies and evocative works of art to tell stories about life in Indian residential schools.

Smith-St. Georges described the story of the residential schools as one of “a long history of hurt” and added, “Our people are still suffering.” She expressed the hope that the exhibit would help in the reconciliation process between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

Guests at the exhibition included Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations; Sharon Johnston, spouse of Governor General David Johnston; former residential school students; members of the family of Mi’kmaq elder and poet Rita Joe; and former prime minister Joe Clark, his spouse, Maureen McTeer, and their daughter Catherine.

After the opening of the exhibition, the large crowd that gathered filed upstairs to the Panorama Room for the panel event, which included Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, the spouse of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“The immediate challenge of reconciliation is to recognize and reverse the injustice and inequality of Canada’s treatment of our Indigenous people,” said Clark, in his introductory remarks.

At a performance at the NAC back in June, when Clark was celebrating his 75th birthday, his family announced that their gift to him would be a new piece of music commissioned for the NAC Orchestra, to be shared across Canada and the world. The world premiere of the work, by Edmonton-based composer John Estacio, is titled, “I Lost My Talk,” and is based on the poem by Rita Joe.

“Rita Joe penned her poem to express not only the pain and suffering of her experience at Schubenacadie Residential School in Nova Scotia, but also her hope and conviction that her voice could guide and inspire Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples across Canada to journey to a place of strength and healing,” stated the NAC in promotional material.

“It’s a great honour to my family and for me, as an honorary witness for the TRC, to have helped bring this story to life on the stage of the National Art Centre,” Clark said.

The panel discussion is available in full here













  • Art Babych

    Art is the former editor of Crosstalk, the newspaper of the Anglican diocese of Ottawa.

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