Indigenous artist and Kamloops United Church join forces for reconciliation exhibit

The exhibit – dubbed the Reconciliation Through Art Interactive Showcase – is the brainchild of Shay Paul. The 17-year-old, a student of Kamloops School of the Arts, pitched the collaboration for her Grade 12 social justice project.

The idea is to bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists who are working toward reconciliation through their art under one roof.

“I feel like it’s going to be another step towards healing because it’s the church recognizing history with residential schools and this negative impact on Indigenous communities,” she tells KamloopsMatters.

Canada’s infamous residential school system was set up in the 19th century as a way to assimilate Indigenous children into Christian-Canadian society. Students couldn't speak their own language or practise their traditions. They were split from their families for long periods of time and forced to live in poor conditions. There was also sexual, physical and emotional abuse in the church-run, federally funded schools. The recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimates at least 6,000 children died in the system.

For Paul, the showcase is personal. Her mother is European, her father is Secwepemc and both her paternal grandparents attended residential school (Paul’s grandmother attended the one in Kamloops and wasn’t able to see her parents until she graduated at the age of 16.)

“I don’t have much of a cultural connection, so I’ve been getting really into Indigenous issues and it’s just something I’ve wanted to explore more about,” she says.

Having fair skin hasn’t helped with building that cultural connection, Paul adds.

“I don’t look as native as others, so I’ve experienced a negative impact from the community. In my experience, they’re hoarding their culture because they don’t want it to be taken away. They see someone with fair skin who wants to learn more about it, and they kind of turn it away. I feel rejected and missing a part of me that I really want to get to learn.”

Diane Stuart is the chair of the reconciliation exploration circle at Kamloops United Church. The group was established a couple of years ago and has been working to educate the public and the congregation on Indigenous history ever since.

“When Shay approached us about this, we were so excited to host her because it definitely falls in line with all the things we’re trying to do,” she says.

The United Church did play a role in the residential school system, Stuart adds, in Port Alberni.

“It was a very sad time in our history. At Kamloops United, we’re really trying to work toward reconciliation. We think it’s really important that everyone be educated in the issues that revolved around residential schools, primarily, but also around other issues that Indigenous people face in Canada.”

The United Church of Canada formally apologized to Canada's First Nations people in 1986. A second apology followed in 1998.

Stuart says a recent “cultural safety” report showed Kamloops United Church is quite a bit ahead in its Indigenous programs when compared to other churches. That includes hosting talking circles and attending workshops. 

“I have to say, at one point, I didn’t understand the significance of residential schools and why there was a problem," says Stuart. "But once I learned exactly how they came about, and these people actually had their children kidnapped, and those issues, then I understood what happened."

Reconciliation Through Art is free to attend. The show is on Saturday, May 19 at 421 St. Paul’s St. It runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be baked goods and refreshments.

For more information, click HERE.

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