A thick coat of resin has finally set on a piece of art made with contributions from some 700 Bellerose Composite High School students in honour of Truth and Reconciliation Day.
The piece was made on Sept. 29, when, one-by-one, Bellerose students placed either a flower, stick, leaf, pine cone, or a piece of wheat onto a circular piece of birch board, which was then given three coats of resin to create a permanent collage.
In an interview, Bellerose arts teacher Lindsay Bracken described the process of placing an item on the board as symbolic of placing flowers on a grave, giving students an opportunity to honour the Indigenous children whose unmarked graves have been found on former residential school sites across the country in recent years.
"I wanted it to be very intentional, but also very emotional," Bracken said. "I wanted it to just be a beautiful sacred experience for our students to be involved in, but also something that was permanent in our building."
Every aspect of the piece was considered in great detail, Bracken explained. The 44-inch piece of birch board was stained brown using dye and a clear gel in order to preserve the wood's grain, which Bracken said she wanted to do to symbolize the colour of the earth.
The objects students placed on the board were either hand-picked by the students themselves, gathered from the nearby area by volunteers, or were roses and coronations that Bracken received from a local florist and dried using a specific salt to prevent the flowers from moulding.
Although participation was optional for students, Bracken said she was very impressed and touched by the number that contributed.
"I loved the idea of being able to kneel down, get close to the land, grab something that speaks to you, have that moment with it in your hand, and then placing it on the circle," she said. "It was your own way of paying your respects.”
Bracken said the project was spearheaded by fellow teacher Jason Lafferty and herself. Lafferty is Gwichʼin, a historically northern Indigenous Nation with many communities in Yukon, Northwest Territory, and Alaska today.
On Sept. 29, while students participated in the creation of the piece they also had the opportunity to smudge, thanks to Lafferty.
Smudging is an Indigenous ceremony that serves to cleanse a person's mind or soul. The ceremony involves a sacred plant (for Bellerose students it was sage) being burned just enough to create smoke, which a person then wafts over themselves.
Now complete, the school's plan is to hang the piece in the Indigenous space being created in the student centre at Bellerose. Bracken said the space will hopefully be finished before the end of the year.
"We didn’t want something that we just threw away, or that was put up for maybe a month – I wanted it to be a permanent fixture.”
Bracken said the school has been working on the Indigenous space since last September.