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

 

Just Posted

Brian Korzenowski rides with Athena, left, and Venus who are safely strapped in and goggled up with the wind in their fur. (Zoe Ducklow - Sooke News Mirror)
Double-dog motorcycle sidecar brings smiles to Sooke Road commuters

Athena and Venus are all teeth and smiles from their Harley-Davidson sidecar

(Black Press Media file photo)
School parking problems plague Oak Bay residents

Need exceeds official requirements for parking at St. Michaels school

A lift on marine border restrictions by next summer would bring an economic gain to Greater Victoria through the cruise industry. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich calls for opening of marine borders by summer 2022

Council to ask feds to end restrictions in time to allow planning for next cruise ship season

Camper the dog was found Wednesday night by someone walking their own dog along Hollywood Crescent. She had gone missing after a violent attack on June 11. (Courtesy of VicPD)
Camper the dog found safe after fleeing violent van attack in Victoria

Camper was found on Hollywood Crescent Wednesday night

Brooke Morneau, a previous participant in car parades, will watch one she has organized for this weekend from her Sidney workplace. (Courtesy Brooke Morneau)
Rolling show and shine ready to cruise Sidney through Saanich

Car parade past senior care homes set for Saturday, June 19

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: When was the last time you visited the mainland?

The films are again lighting the screens at local theatres, the wine… Continue reading

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 June 15

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

Kimberly Bussiere and other laid-off employees of Casino Nanaimo have launched a class-action lawsuit against the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
B.C. casino workers laid off during pandemic launch class-action lawsuit

Notice of civil claim filed in Supreme Court of B.C. in Nanaimo against Great Canadian Gaming

A float plane crashed into the waters near Painters Lodge in Campbell River on Thursday morning. Photo by Alistair Taylor / Campbell River Mirror
Float plane crashes into water near Campbell River

Pilot uninjured, plane hit sandbar while landing

John Kromhoff with some of the many birthday cards he received from ‘pretty near every place in the world’ after the family of the Langley centenarian let it be known that he wasn’t expecting many cards for his 100th birthday. (Special to Langley Advance Times)
Cards from all over the world flood in for B.C. man’s 100th birthday

An online invitation by his family produced a flood of cards to mark his 100th birthday

FILE – Nurse Iciar Bercian prepares a shot at a vaccine clinic for the homeless in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, June 2, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
B.C. scientists to study effectiveness of COVID vaccines in people with HIV

People living with HIV often require higher doses of other vaccines

A 50-year-old woman lost control of her vehicle Tuesday, June 15, crashing through a West Vancouver school fence that surrounds playing children. (West Vancouver Police)
Driver ticketed for speeding near B.C. school crashes into playground fence days later

‘It’s an absolute miracle that nobody was injured,’ says Const. Kevin Goodmurphy

Most Read