Debbie Tucker and Ann Marie Harley with the Rug Hooking Guild of Nova Scotia wanted to find a way to raise more awareness about the impact Indian residential schools had on Indigenous people in Canada.
The two women were moved to create some sort of project after learning about the discovery of the remains of 215 children on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia in May 2021.
The RHGNS teamed up with Mi’kmaw artists such as Tara Francis, Gerald Gloade, Phyllis Grant, Lorne Julien and Noella Moore to create the Finding the way Forward exhibit.
The exhibit was unveiled at the temporary home of the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre on Brunswick Street in Halifax on Feb. 1.
The display is the largest the RHGNS has ever staged and is an extension of the Every Child Matters project. The Indigenous artists were commissioned to create the designs and the rug hookers went to work on creating the rugs seen in the exhibit.
“We were very particular. People had to agree that they would do the rugs based on the artist’s parameters. The medicine wheel has to be the right colours, the orange had to be there for Orange T-Shirt Day,” Tucker explained.
Each rug represent Mi’kmaw values
The designs on each rug represent Mi’kmaw values such as Kpmite’taqn (respect), Nutajite’slimk (humility) and Mlkita’suti (courage).
When the RHGNS first came up with the idea of designing these rugs, it was a matter of how to do the exhibit respectfully and to the best of their abilities.
“How do we use our craft to provide something that’s meaningful,” Debbie Tucker co-chair of the RHGNS said.
Theresa Meuse, the cultural advisor with the MNFC, said when Tucker and Harley approached the centre with their idea for a rug hook exhibit, she thought it was “a unique way to keep that momentum going and to educate” other people about the intergenerational effects the residential school system had on Indigenous children and families.
While the rugs are a unique way of remembering the remains of the 215 children in Kamloops, Meuse hopes that everyone who visits will have a different interpretation of the designs.
“Hopefully it gives you a nice feeling when you walk away,” Meuse said.
“It’s an honour that they’re here” – Charlotte Bernard
Charlotte Bernard, the triage support manager at the MNFC, said the unveiling of the rug exhibit made her emotional. She said the rug featuring an eagle soaring across the sky resonated with her.
“Fly high, all those children that didn’t make it home, fly high,” she said.
“It’s an honour that they’re here. It’s an honour that they have done this beautiful artwork because it will keep the conversations going,” Bernard added.
The Finding the way Forward exhibit will be on display at the MNFC at 2021 Brunswick Street in Halifax until February 28. The centre recommends visitors to call ahead at 902-420-1576 to confirm availability.