“We Are Still Here” mural by artist Mike Cywink, installed at N'Amerind Friendship Centre

Updated: Sep 30


ABOUT THE PROJECT

N’Amerind Friendship Centre, The City of London, and the London Arts Council have been working together to develop a large-scale, seven-panel Indigenous mural at N’Amerind Friendship Centre.

Ojibwe educator and visual artist Mike Cywink is working with Indigenous youth artists and Residential School Survivors to create the mural to be placed on the exterior wall of N’Amerind Friendship Centre. This mural will increase public awareness and knowledge of the history of Canada’s Residential School System; honour Residential School Survivors and the children who were lost through the system; and celebrate Indigenous arts, culture, knowledge, and histories.

Residential School Survivors have contributed to the creation of the mural through consultation sessions, which provided them with a meaningful voice by reflecting and commemorating their resilience and their lives throughout the development of this project.

MESSAGE FROM THE ARTIST “As we navigate this way of life, we must never forget the past. To know where we are going, we must know where we come from. The relationships between the Indigenous Peoples, the land, the water, the animals and to ceremony need to be understood and respected, as they are our original ways of living and being.

There is a complex relationship between Indigenous Peoples, settlers, and institutions. And the true history of those relationships here on Turtle Island must be understood by everybody. For centuries, Canada has tried to hide the horrors, the harm and destruction that it has caused to Indigenous communities. But through resiliency, hard work and the determination of our people, we have fought to bring the truth to light.


We need to work together to move forward together. Pieces of who we are, our way of life and understanding our relationships is vital in creating a safer, better world for all of us.


The Residential School system tried to wipe out the Indigenous Peoples, with assimilation being the key focus of those institutes. But the spirit of the native people was too strong. The ones who walked before us fought to keep our ways of life going. They ensured our teachings; ceremonies and our spiritual connections would live on. Through every action, their thoughts were with us.

As we move forward together, we must never forget what has happened. We have survivors who walk amongst us, we have children of survivors who are dealing with intergenerational trauma and trying their best to break the cycle of pain and hurt. No matter what we do, we must always think of the next group coming next. Whether it is the youth of today, the newborns or the ones who are coming 7 generations from now. We must always think of them in everything we do.”



- Mike Cywink, 2022


MURAL DESCRIPTIONS⁠—

PANEL 1: STORY TELLERS



“As an artist, I consider myself a storyteller. I, of course do not speak for every Indigenous person and my teachings are ones that have been passed along on my path so far. And as we embark on this journey, I am telling a story that is not my own.


I listen, I learn, and I try to tell other people’s stories through my art. The original ways of passing down teachings and stories is through storytelling; it is an important piece of our traditional ways of being.


The Residential School system has affected me, my communities, my family, and every single Indigenous person you will ever meet. And even though I was fortunate enough not to have attended one of those institutes myself, a lot of people I deeply care about have. So, this is me trying to tell that story.


The warm colors represent the sunrise. The beginning of this story. As the sun rises and signals a new day, so does this piece. The 3 purple orbs are us. The Indigenous People. The past, the present and the future. I do not know if you have ever heard a wolf howl. But if you have, then you know everything stops and listens. They echo through the lands and all of creation stops, takes a moment, and listens. We are taught to listen twice as much as we speak, 2 ears, 1 mouth. We have some of our traditional medicines here in the blueberries and the strawberries.


Whenever we talk about a subject like this, we must think about healing. And our medicines play such an important role in that. The wolves are sitting on top of Turtle Island, howling out, to be heard. To tell a story. A very real story.”

PANEL 2: WHERE WE WERE



“A lot has changed for Indigenous Peoples across Turtle Island. As we struggle through this new world, a lot of us are trying to hold onto our original ways of being. Our original ways of creation. We will forever be connected to this land. From our creation stories, we were created from this land so we will have a forever-bond with it. It is our responsibility to take care of it, as it has taken care of us since the beginning of time.


Water is life. As important our connection to land is, so is our connection to water.

It is the life force that provides us with everything we need to live. It nurtures us, brings life and is a piece of who we are. So, as we move forward in this life, we must always remember where we come from.


To know where you are going, you must know where you come from. That forever-bond can never be broken. We walked together with all of creation, with the ones who swim, the 4 leggeds and the ones who fly. There was a time when the animals took care of us, when we needed it, so we must do the same.


The 4 medicine wheel orbs are our connection to ceremony and our connection to the 4 directions. Our connection to ceremony is our way of being. Every nation has different traditions, customs, and ceremonies. They are all different, however the common connection is how important they are to our original ways of life. The 7 orange orbs around the sun are the 7 grandfather teachings. Love, humility, courage, wisdom, bravery, respect & honesty. Original gifts that were given to help us on this journey. Connection to land, water, the animals, our ceremonies and all the responsibilities that go along with it are a part of who we are.”

PANEL 3: OUR CREATION STORIES


“Everything we know and everything we need to walk a good path can be found within the Creation Story. Within that story, every aspect of every teaching can be found and is meant to help the people in our ways of life. The full story takes 3-5 full days to tell.


One of our original gifts, was the bundle and the medicines within. Those medicines came directly from Mother Earth and help the people mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It is one of our immediate connections to the land and to the spirits.


There was a time when the Creator wanted to make somebody in the image of himself. So, he reached down into the earth and created some vessels, within those vessels he breathed life into them and created the people. Those people left into the four directions and started to make a life for themselves. After the creation of the people, he needed to create other pieces of life. He needed some help in planting and distributing the seeds of life all over Turtle Island. The birds came forth and offered to help. All different kinds and all different colors offered to carry the seeds and help in the creation process.


The Indigenous People cannot be the only ones working towards reconciliation, it takes an effort from everybody. Just like the birds spreading the seeds, we need everybody to help spread the love, and understanding to move forward together. We need everybody, in all 4 directions working together for true reconciliation to happen. We need balance in our lives, we need to be allowed to live how we were meant to live. With love and happiness in our hearts.


If you ever think you cannot make a difference, look to the muskrat. He was the one responsible for getting the dirt to put on the back of the turtle, in turn creating Turtle Island. He was laughed at and made fun of because of how small he was. And in the end, he was the only one who was able to make the dive to get the dirt to create life.”

PANEL 4: 215


“In May of 2021, the world took notice. The eyes of the world were on Kamloops, British Columbia. The world took notice of just a small portion of what Canada has tried to sweep under the rug for generations. The Residential School system completely changed the world of Indigenous peoples, a black cloud that rolled through our communities and destroyed families. Our home, way of being, way of living and everything was shattered. We were cut off from one another, cut off from our teachings, cut off from our homes, cut like the braids of our children.

A lot of people think these things happened many, many years in the past. The last Residential School closed in 1996 and still affects many people, communities, and families today. The intergenerational trauma runs deep in our people.

215. It took 215 children for the world to take notice. 215 and still counting.

There are 215 stars in this piece of our story, 215 stars that never got to shine.”

PART 5: BREAKING THE CYCLE



“Healing is a big piece of our earth walk. Our time here is short, and we should be doing what we can to help heal ourselves, our families, our communities, and all of creation. Breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma is a big focus of our people. We were meant to walk this path with love in our hearts. We were meant to walk with our teachings, culture, and language. We were meant to walk this path the way Creator intended.


The Residential School system tried to destroy all of that. “To kill the Indian in the child” The ones who hid, the ones who hid our ceremonial items and the ones who kept the spirit alive are the real heroes in our story.


This piece was inspired by Amanda Polchies. At an anti-fracking protest in 2013 where Polchies stood up to the RCMP with nothing but her eagle feather, her spirit, and her love for the land. That is real strength. Love conquers all. She stood on the front lines, with her heart guiding her.


As we learn to heal and break the cycle of pain and abuse, we look for strength. We turn to our leaders, to our culture, to our ceremonies and to each other. The snake represents the pain. The pain, abuse and trauma inflicted into Indigenous communities. It represents the hate in the hearts of the people who did this to us.

The bear is one of our clan animals, a protector. He looks out for the people; he tries to keep us safe and protect what we have.


Our teachings also tell us to think 7 generations ahead. We walk this path, this life,

not for us. But for the ones who are coming next. The 7 seeds represent the ones who are coming. As we heal, we are replacing that trauma with love, and we are passing that onto the next ones.”

PANEL 6: NOW



“As we move forward in this world, we do so thinking ahead. We walk this path not thinking about ourselves, but for the next ones coming through. We heal, we grow, and we look to better our communities while walking arm in arm with our brothers and sisters.


We remember those that walked before us, the ones who protected the things we

hold so sacred. We remember our responsibilities. Our responsibilities to the water, the land, and the animals.


We walk forward carrying love and peace. We learn from each other, and we teach

one another. We look for strength. We look to support our families, our birth families, and our clan families. We appreciate and love the diversity within our communities. And we look to be inclusive of everybody. We look to plant the seeds of love, so that cycle of pain and hate ends with us. We are breaking that cycle. We look for peace, no fighting, no negativity. We look to be as peaceful as the rider riding the horse. We fight this fight together.”

PANEL 7: GREAT TREE OF PEACE



“As our story began with a sunrise, this one ends it with a sunset.


There was a time when all the nations were fighting, not in a good place and at war with one another. This had to stop. A meeting was called underneath a great pine tree. The nation leaders met and decided to work together and put all the pain, fighting and hatred behind them. To show their commitment to the pact, they all buried their weapons underneath the great white roots of the tree. They bound the arrows together to signify the peace that was formed. Each arrow on their own is strong, but when you bound them together, they are unbreakable. The spirit of each and every nation is unbreakable. The eagle looks out beyond and protects the nations. He is there for guidance, protection and carries the prayers for the people.


We must work together to achieve the life we were meant to live. The Residential School system tried to break the spirit of the Indigenous Peoples from all across Turtle Island. But we are still here. We are still trying our best to walk the path that was intended for us. For Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, we must keep supporting, loving and being there for each other.”