Victoria artist explores shared pain experienced in residential schools through art

Truth telling: Part 1 in a series looking at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Artist and aboriginal curator Peter Morin

Artist and aboriginal curator Peter Morin

When the prime minister apologized on behalf of the Government of Canada to former students of residential schools, Peter Morin took the morning off work to listen.

In hearing Stephen Harper’s words, he felt a great weight lifted from his chest, despite having never attended a residential school.

Morin, a Tahltan artist, first assumed the weight he felt was for the aboriginal foster kids and their families, with whom he worked as an advocate at that time – kids, he said, who are are still being removed and placed in non-aboriginal foster homes.

“I thought, OK, that’s why,” says Morin, remembering his emotions from that day in June 2008. “Then I thought, no, that was mine. That was my own weight connected to this intergenerational shame and trauma.”

Morin is Open Space Gallery’s aboriginal curator. Hearing the apology inspired him in 2009 to create 12 performance art “interventions” exploring the spiritual pain of residential schools.

“I needed to understand my own connection,” says the 34 year old, whose Tahltan Nation homeland is located at Telegraph Creek in Northern B.C.

“My work as a performance and installation artist is about creating an experiential space so that people can come with me to the Tahltan land.”

Morin’s newest project has been funded as part of Victoria’s 150th anniversary celebrations. It addresses a legislative period known as the Potlatch Ban, in place until 1951, which forbade First Nations people from all acts of art in service of community expression, Morin explains. “(It was) the silencing of artists and the silencing of the creative spirit of the people.”

Understanding the impact on the community, however, requires understanding the concept of art in the Aboriginal world view.

There is no word for art in any indigenous language – a fact Morin learned from a teacher and friend.

“When I hear that, what I reflect upon is that every word is a word for art … It’s every creative act. That beautiful basket – it’s not on the wall, it’s not beyond your reach.”

The Potlatch Ban interrupted this expression. Similarly, he says, residential schools interrupted this cultural, spiritual, emotional and physical mentoring.

“When all of this is interrupted, I want to call it a spiritual pain that exists. Grandparents, they have a desire and a need and a want to teach kids and when they’re not able to teach the kids, they experience spiritual pain.”

His own grandmother was held back from residential schools, but this, too, created pain. As the kid who stayed behind, she lost her connection to her siblings.

“My grandmother could only write her name, but she didn’t know how to read,” Morin says.

“It sets up a very sad dynamic between sisters. My grandmother felt sad that she didn’t know how to write more. She was also very angry, but it’s funny, because she was such a beautiful woman and she knew so much about our culture. She spoke our language fluently.”

Morin plans to attend the Truth and Reconciliation Commission event, being held in Victoria Friday and Saturday (April 13 and 14), which gives people affected by residential schools the opportunity to share their experiences.

“I want to be there because it’s important,” he says. “These stories need to go outward. People need to understand.”

For his high school audiences, Morin explains it this way: “You’re five and somebody comes to your door and takes you from your mom and dad and you don’t see your mom and dad for 10 months.”

As the tears flow freely down his cheeks, he says, “There is a whole history of people in my family and the indigenous families who survived that. How incredible, because I don’t think I could.”

Artists also have a role in articulating these experiences, he adds.

Part of the purpose of Morin’s art is transformation.

“I’ve had too many experiences where people would say to me, ‘well, residential school is just an Indian problem,’” he says.

“I’ll always remember this one person put their hand out and they pushed the problem away, and I thought, well that can’t feel good for you … to push it away. My projects were specifically about opening up the space where we could work together and acknowledge our shared history.”

rholmen@vicnews.com

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Carolyn Howe, a kindergarten teacher and vice president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, says educators are feeling the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and the influx of pressure that comes with it. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Stress leave, tears and insomnia: Greater Victoria teachers feel the strain of COVID-19

One year in, teachers still adjusting to mask and cleaning rules, pressure from families

A wind warning is in effect for Greater Victoria Thursday afternoon. (Black Press Media file photo)
Strong winds predicted for Greater Victoria

Environment Canada issues warning for Thursday afternoon

Various Victoria locations were hit with a slew of anti-bylaw graffiti Wednesday. This image has been altered to cover up profane language. (Submitted photo)
UPDATED: Slew of anti-bylaw graffiti an ‘unacceptable’ form of communication says Victoria mayor, police

Downtown businesses, bylaw office and Ministry of Finance vandalized Wednesday morning

Richard Pierce is the Goldstream Gazette’s 2021 Unsung Hero of the Year. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)
Navy veteran helping others cope with post-traumatic stress disorder

Rich Pearce is the West Shore 2021 Unsung Hero

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
456 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., 2 deaths

Since January 2020, 78,278 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in B.C.

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Feb. 23

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media File Photo)
POLL: Are you struggling with Greater Victoria’s cost of housing?

While Victoria remains one of the most expensive cities in the country… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Vaccinating essential workers before seniors in B.C. could save lives: experts

A new study says the switch could also save up to $230 million in provincial health-care costs

Photograph By @KAYLAXANDERSON
VIDEO: Lynx grabs lunch in Kamloops

A lynx surprises a group of ducks and picks one off for lunch

When his owner had knee surgery, Kevin, 2, was able to continue to go for walks thanks to volunteers from Elder Dog Canada. (Contributed photo)
B.C. woman has nothing but praise for Elder Dog Canada

National organization has a fleet of volunteer walkers ready, but needs more clients to serve

Two women were arrested in Nanaimo for refusing to wear masks and causing disturbance on a BC Ferries vessel. (File photo)
B.C. ferry passengers arrested and fined for disturbance, refusing to wear masks

Police said woman threatened their pensions in Feb. 21 incident aboard Nanaimo-bound boat

A Nanaimo RCMP vehicle in the Woodgrove Centre parking lot. (News Bulletin file photo)
Woman groped by stranger in mall parking lot in Nanaimo

Incident happened near bus loop Saturday, Feb. 20, at about 4:45 p.m.

The late Michael Gregory, 57, is accused of sexually exploiting six junior high students between 1999 and 2005. (Pixabay)
Former Alberta teacher accused of sexually assaulting students found dead in B.C.

Mounties say Michael Gregory’s death has been deemed ‘non-suspicious’

Most Read