Mayne Island / S,KTAK artists Johnny Aitken, Bill Jamison and Wayne Thomas took on the monumental task of hosting a four day art installation with the intention of inviting deep observation, thought and conversation about the past, present and future of colonialism, genocide and the unsettled coexistence of Indigenous and white settlers in what is called British Columbia and Canada by the British Empire. Even to outline this installation in such a way is to be more forward or provocative and less inviting to question than the artworks actually offers to us. I pause. Have I already said too much?
Yet, these few words seem necessary as I share images from last evening that I have gathered with permission during my visit to a quiet corner on these lands of the Coast Salish people just after sunset.
My husband and I wait for fifteen minutes in the gloaming under the trees at the edge of the road where there was just enough room to park our car. It is not quite 7:30 pm. Talking in a hushed voice, I spoke about my maternal grandmother who loved this time of day best. I spoke about how she would resist lighting the gas lamp just a little longer until all we could see was the lit end of her cigarette that seemed to hold the invisible shape of her angular body hunched over a tall step stool at the back of the round wooden kitchen table. My grandmother had been born in Norway and came to Canada at the age of six with her parents and they made their way across the country to north central British Columbia to homestead. She grew up, married and raised her family within a six mile radius of that first cleared and plowed field, living with her husband on the Stuart River some 25 miles outside of Vanderhoof. My parents still live up river from there about two miles as the crow files or four miles by road. They are in their mid eighties and live off the grid with only wood heat and the help of a generator. I share this because more than many white Canadian folks, I am solidly from white settler stock without even the separation of a generation. I went to high school with young adults who had gone to residential school up to grade seven and then, with difficulty, entered the white mainstream system. I heard and observed overt racism and, sometimes much more painful, subtle disrespect first hand. Later I worked with many Indigenous families as a young white woman and felt the overwhelming pain of their displacement in their own homeland. But then I could go home to my own two children in a small mobile home in a trailer park. I would be thankful for the wholeness of my family and the stability of my housing which I could own. I would appreciate my potable water. I would acknowledge the whiteness of my skin that allowed me respect without proof of my worth. I could order a birthday cake for my child at a local bakery without paying up front. I didn’t know until I was standing at the counter with an Indigenous mother ordering a cake for her child that she could not. Even when I mentioned to the clerk this discrepancy, the clerk and the mother both just shrugged and she handed over the money in advance. This is how white privilege can blind us. This is how we come to a place of uttering the foolish words “why don’t they just….” or telling ourselves it is all in the past. It is not.
There are lessons from the past of course and at the same time, if we can pause and stand within ourselves and observe and share and engage in deep humble conversations, there are still many more lesson and opportunity today that have the potential to create a new and better future. But it won’t happen quickly and it won’t happen at all if we do not take the time to grieve and acknowledge the crimes and losses in our past and in our present.
These are my reflections and thoughts after our visit to the last evening’s art installation and my all-to-brief conversations with Johnny Aitken who I consider a friend as well as an amazing artist and outstanding host of difficult and necessary conversations. I am not going to give you too much background on these various works by these three artists because they are design and intended to be interactive in their interpretation. I encourage you to go and see for yourself this evening or next from 7:30 – 9:00 pm on Sunday October 2nd or Monday October 3rd, 2022 at 450 Mill Rd, Mayne Island, B.C. After all, a conversation cannot happen if you do not show up to have one.
You can also learn more about the work of:
Johnny Aitken: agent for change using many methods HERE.
Bill Jamison: every glass project begins with a conversation HERE.
Wayne Thomas: gifting opportunities for growth and change through wood and silver carvings HERE.
I am honoured to have been given permission to photograph and share their latest art installations with you and to have these three in my local community of artists. Thank you Johnny, Bill and Wayne for all that you do and for being you!
ONLINE GALLERIES include –
ArtWork Archive original paintings and acrylic sketches currently available
Redbubble painting and photography prints and merchandise
4 thoughts on “Four Day Installation For Truth and Reconciliation”
Terrill this is beautifully and humbly written. I’m not on the island for this and so am so pleased to hear the words of another white woman speak so openly and vulnerably about our privilege. I see Johnny work so hard in the community and I’m inspired by your words that also support healing and growth in the community.
Thank you Marie for taking the time to comment and share your thoughts. I am glad of your company here even though you have to be away from Mayne Island.
Amazing – thank you for this in-depth coverage of these important installations!
You are most welcome Annette. It is a power set of works and I am so glad we were able to spend some time with them and Johnny last evening.