The Penticton Art Gallery is investigating the First Nations experience offering an alternative view to the Canada 150 celebrations with a series of exhibitions throughout the gallery.
Velvet Indians presents an array of vintage art ranging from the 1940s to the 1970s depicting Indigenous peoples and Jim Logan’s Requiem for Our Children is a series of paintings illustrating the stories told to Logan by residential school survivors while he was a lay preacher in the Yukon.
A third exhibition, Anamnesis, adds the voices of Joseph Sanchez and Janice Iniskim-Aki Tanton to the conversation.
Sanchez, a member of the Native Group of Seven, is an American artist from Trinidad, Colorado, by way of the White Mountain Apache Reservation and Taos Pueblo. He came to Penticton to attend the opening and explained the 10 pieces he added to the show were the result of a visit to a residential school near St. Paul, Alta.
“They are recollections of stories I heard when I was at Blue Quills Residential School,” said Sanchez, adding that he was visiting the school along with a fellow artist, Alex Janvier, who had attended the school.
“They were honouring us at the school a few years back. I got to spend a couple of weeks at the school and I got to meet a lot of the people that went to the school,” said Sanchez, who had not attended residential school himself.
Sanchez drew on those stories and his own experience growing up Catholic to create the 10 works. His purpose was not only to raise awareness about the multi-generational impact of residential schools but to move toward healing, not only for the people, but their children.
Blue Quills has been converted to a First Nations college, and Sanchez talks of a ceremony with Dene singers performing healing songs on the front steps to dispel negative energy.
“Natives use song a lot for that purpose, to carry away a lot of the negativity,” said Sanchez adding the experience of creating the paintings was difficult.
“For me, making these paintings, I treated them almost as a prayer,” said Sanchez, talking about how bad the stories made him feel.
“I had to pray to get through it,” he said. “I want to dispel those feelings. I am not a singer, if I was a singer I would have been singing the whole time, for sure.”
“It was difficult for me to do this work, having not experienced this, but when I went back home, I was with my younger brothers.
“I didn’t experience that with the Catholic priests, but my younger brothers did. I thought these priests were great guys and apparently they weren’t,” said Sanchez. “That added a little bit of truth to what I was experiencing, because I had this fantasy that everything was all right, but it wasn’t.”
Sanchez said it is necessary to move forward and develop strength, not just carry anger about it.
“The anger is not helping our younger generation,” said Sanchez. “We have to have a more open conversation about how this has affected them, continues to affect them. The alcoholism, the violence, the suicide, all those elements that still exist on reserves.
“Even down south, on my own reserve, suicide is the number one killer of all the young people. It has to do with the abuse and this feeling of hopelessness.
“I think the show has elements of hope, we need to move forward with it, not sweep it under the table but talk about it honestly and share that honesty, certainly with younger people.”
Anamnesis and the other exhibitions are on in the Penticton Art Gallery until Sunday, Sept. 17.