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Artist of stained glass window delivers important message.

Words spoken by Christi Belcourt as she dedicated her stained glass creation to Aboriginal survivors of both residential and day schools moved Bernadette Iahtail to tears.

"The stories that she shared. It brought tears to my eyes because it brings me back to my own community, about my family and how we never had a chance to go back to find out who we were, what happened, how we ended up this way. I certainly think we all have to have that opportunity to go back and find out what happened," said Iahtail, co-founder and executive director of the Creating Hope Society.

Belcourt, the Metis artist whose work was unanimously chosen by a committee of Indian Residential School survivors and Aboriginal art experts for a stained glass window in the Parliament building in Ottawa, recounted the story of the residential school survivor whose words influenced her work.

"She said tell our side of the story. She would have been within her full rights to say make it about genocide, but she didn't. She said make it about hope," Belcourt said.

While the stained glass window, entitled "Giniigaaniimenaaning," which means 'Looking Ahead,' will stand as a memorial for the children, families and communities who suffered loss through residential schools, is important for the Aboriginal community, Adam North Peigan, executive director with the Canadian Native Friendship Centre, says even more important was the message Belcourt delivered during the dedication ceremony.

"I think she used it as an opportunity to voice those concerns and I was actually quite pleased. It was very bold of her. I think it was done on a national front and done in a good way. Everything she alluded to ... is something we've been advocating for quite some time," North Peigan said.

Belcourt used the dedication ceremony as an opportunity to remind the federal government of what it still has to do.

"I wish I could speak to the hearts of MPs ... and let them know that renewal and reconciliation can be found between Aboriginal peoples and the rest of Canada through the sustained wellness of generations of Aboriginal people to come," said Belcourt.

She called on the government to provide support for northern communities; to embrace resource revenue sharing as a means for economic well-being and self-sufficiency of Aboriginal communities; to lead an inquiry into the high numbers of murdered and missing Aboriginal women; to follow an "aggressive and sustained revitalization program" for the languages and culture that were lost through the schools; and equity in funding for Aboriginal children.

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The irony cannot be lost, says Iahtail, that a Metis artist's work was chosen for the stained glass window.

Belcourt called on the government to treat Metis residential school survivors and day school survivors "justly and fairly." Both groups have been excluded from the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement.

Iahtail also applauds Belcourt's call for long term and direct support for the families of residential school survivors to address the intergenerational effects.

Creating Hope Society deals with the aftermath of residential schools.

"What Christi said was very true, the intergenerational part of the trauma. We see four generations of child welfare because of that," Iahtail said.

The dedication ceremony took place Nov. 26 at 7 a.m. MST. The Creating Hope Society hosted a breakfast and invited the Aboriginal community to join in viewing the webcast of the ceremony. A handful of people came out.

"The stained glass window is part of that reconciliation. Reconciliation is a lifetime event that needs to happen because the atrocities of residential school and the impacts it had on our lives and we're still feeling the effects today," North Peigan said.

BY SHARI NARINE Sweetgrass Contributing Editor EDMONTON
COPYRIGHT 2012 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:EDMONTON; Christi Belcourt
Publication:Alberta Sweetgrass
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Dec 1, 2012
Words:618
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