Saturday, November 25, 2017
A Day of Alex Janvier and Apologies
Yesterday I went on a road trip with my brother, Eric, to the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg Ontario. Eric is an accomplished guitarist and I thought he would enjoy the Group of Seven Guitar Project which is on display now. Seven guitars were created by some of Canada's pre-eminent luthiers to honour Group of Seven artists, as well as an eighth for Tom Tomson.
I also wanted to take in the Alex Janvier exhibit which was in the National Gallery in Ottawa, modified now for the McMichael. Janvier is one of the Indian Group of Seven which includes two of my favourite aboriginal artists, Daphne Odjig and Norval Morisseau.
Born of Dene Suline and Saulteaux descent in 1935 Janvier was raised in the nurturing care of his family until at the age of eight, he was taken from his home and sent to the Blue Quills Indian Residential School near St. Paul, Alberta. Although Janvier speaks of having a creative instinct from as far back as he can remember, it was at the residential school that he was given the tools to create his first paintings, which is an irony. Some of the earliest works on display were commissioned for the school chapel when he was fifteen. He still paints today at the age of 82.
Our Lady of the Teepee 1950
As we meandered from room to room we witnessed the development of Janvier's style, or styles of painting through the decades. We were also aware from the descriptions beside the paintings of the racism and discrimination Janvier experienced, and the imposition of Christianity and European culture on him and his peers.
Also yesterday, thousands of kilometres away, the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, was apologizing to Aboriginal people in Newfoundland and Labrador for the misery of the residential schools. The apology was heartfelt is seemed to me, even though there has been controversy about who was excluded from it. Trudeau conceded that saying sorry was not enough, and it isn't.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomes residential survivor Toby Obed to the stage
after delivering an apology on behalf of the Government of Canada
to former students of the Newfoundland and Labrador residential schools.
(Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)
There was a response from Toby Obed, a man the same age as Trudeau, whose suffering is evident. He was emotional and eloquent, reminding Canadians that this apology is only a step toward healing: "The apology has been a long time in the making — too long. Because I come from a patient and forgiving culture, I think it is proper for us to accept an apology from the government of Canada."
All Canadians, and particularly those of us who are part of denominations which ran those schools where so much harm was done must continue to listen and learn from the aboriginal peoples of this land.