March 2, 2022

Local Indigenous artists selected to create mural on UCalgary Foothills campus

Painting to create welcoming space through representation of Indigenous health, healing and inclusion of Nations of Treaty 7 and Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3
A photograph of the four artists
Mural artists from left: Sikomh Kokomii, Kamâmak, Chey Ozinja-Thiha and BB Iskwew. Indigenous, Local and Global Health Office

Four Indigenous artists, with representation in the Nations of Treaty 7 and Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3, and bringing a breadth of artistic experience, have been selected to create a mural on the University of Calgary’s Foothills campus.

The mural is intended to be a lasting symbol of the university and the Cumming School of Medicine’s (CSM) commitment to walk the path toward reconciliation through purposeful responses to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. It is also meant as an invitation for non-Indigenous people to reflect on the notions of history and culture through dialogue.

A selection committee including representatives from UCalgary and local Indigenous Elders selected the following artists:

Sikomh Kokomii (Calling Crane), also known as Jared Tailfeathers, is the Indigenous mural artist mentor. He is a multidisciplinary artist from the Kainai First Nation who seeks to teach youth and community about the history of Treaty 7 and reconnecting with the land through the arts. He will mentor and work with three Indigenous artist mentees in the consulting, planning and creation of the mural.  

Mural work is one of the most effective and powerful tools for expression of beauty, history and culture to a broad audience.

- Sikomh Kokomii

He comes by his passion to support health and wellness within Indigenous communities honestly. His father, Dr. Darcy Tailfeathers, MD, was the first Indigenous medical student at the University of Alberta, and his aunt, Dr. Esther Tailfeathers, MD, is a well-known advocate for improving Indigenous health care.

Mackenzie Brown, whose Cree name is Kamâmak, is one of three Indigenous mural artist mentees. She is an aspiring mural artist and Indigenous performer, drummer and cultural educator from the Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation. Brown values the role of public art in creating safe and welcoming spaces and believes that western science and Indigenous medicine can co-exist.

Chey Ozinja-Thiha is a self-taught Îyekâbî artist from the Stoney Nakoda Nation who views murals as a medium for storytelling. They hope one day to help other youth in their community to seek art opportunities without facing barriers, and look forward to this mentee opportunity.

Kayla Bellerose, BB Iskwew, is an emerging mural artist with Cree and Métis family roots from the Bigstone and Sawridge Cree Nations. She believes community consultation and Elder engagement are important facets to any visual arts initiative.

This mural situates Indigenous perspectives and images in a very prominent place of gathering in the medical school, inviting all who pass to engage in conversation. It will serve as a cultural bridge to complement ongoing and necessary policy transformations," says Dr. Aleem Bharwani, MD, director, public policy, Indigenous, Local and Global Health Office, CSM.

Coming together in a good way

Woven into the mural will be visual elements of traditional medicinal and wellness practices and medicine wheel cultural teachings of the Nations of Treaty 7 and Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3

The artists will gather members of Indigenous communities including Elders and Traditional Knowledge Keepers to listen and learn about the practices and teachings of each Nation. Several virtual consultation gatherings took place in February and continue through March.

“This mural is an opportunity to learn from community and Traditional Knowledge Keepers about Indigenous ways of being, doing, and seeing as they relate to ancestral and modern-day health and wellness practices. The mural will visually share the transfer of knowledge between generations to all who visit the Cumming School of Medicine,” says Bellerose.  

These actions align with the Indigenous Health Dialogue’s (IHD) recommendation for authentic inclusion of Indigenous perspective and people and with principles of ii’ taa’poh’to’p, UCalgary’s path toward reconciliation.

Advancing reconciliation on campus

“Art has the ability to start a conversation. By empowering a viewer through strong imagery, art can make people start to ask questions and start to learn. Reconciliation starts with truth and education,” says Brown.

One of the IHD’s five Recommendations for a Path Forward is to promote inclusion of Indigenous people and knowledge, dismantling barriers and bias within the institution. The Indigenous Mural Initiative will weave Indigenous ways of knowing, being, doing and connecting into the fabric of the institution, serving as an example for other departments, faculties and units of how to commit to action and catalyze change.

The big reveal coming later this spring

The artists and Dawn Saunders Dahl, project co-ordinator, hope to begin the creation process in March after the community consultations. Work will continue through April with estimated completion later in the spring. The mural will be displayed above the Feasby Student Lounge in the Health Sciences Centre on the Foothills campus.

The final mural deserves to be shared with many to inspire other purposeful responses. The team is hopeful for an in-person grand reveal event later this year.

The Indigenous Mural Initiative is funded by the Indigenous, Local and Global Health Office, the CSM, the Calgary Arts Development Authority and the City of Calgary.

Aleem Bharwani is the director for public policy and strategic partnerships at CSM’s Indigenous Local and Global Health Office, the lead for policy and partnerships for the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, and the co-founder of the UCalgary Pluralism Initiative. He is also a physician and clinical associate professor in the Department of Medicine.

The Cumming School of Medicine's Indigenous, Local & Global Health Office works to create the future of health and social equity at home and abroad. The office is committed to collaborating with communities to promote engagement, advance equity, inform curriculum and research, and co-design initiatives for impact. 

ii’ taa’poh’to’p, the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy, is a commitment to deep evolutionary transformation by reimagining ways of knowing, doing, connecting, and being. Walking parallel paths together, ‘in a good way,’ UCalgary is moving toward genuine reconciliation and Indigenization.