Mistissini’s youth centre unveils mural project

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As this year’s Goose Break comes to an end, Mistissini youth have another reason to celebrate. On May 16, the community’s youth centre unveiled five powerful new murals that illustrate Cree culture and connection with the land.

Catherine Quinn and Sophie Stella Boivin led this special project in collaboration with Mistissini youth. Quinn told the Nation that Youth Development Coordinator Samantha Awashish asked her to create the murals because Awashish appreciated the similar work that had been done at the Quinn-owned Meechum grocery store.

Quinn was enthusiastic about the opportunity but wanted to bring aboard a professional muralist to simplify the process. She immediately thought of Boivin, who is also First Nations and was excited to return north. The two first worked together seven years ago when Boivin created murals for the Mistissini clinic and Quinn played the role of community guide.

This was their first true collaboration as artists and proved to be a transformative experience for both. For Quinn, it signified the beginning of a career in the visual arts following years of studies. It also marked a return to her native Mistissini after living away from home most of her life.

“Coming back and then working with the youth, asking what made them happy and peaceful to be incorporated into the mural, hearing them talk about the things they love being the same things that I loved,” she said. “Being on the land, seeing geese and moose – the connection they had with the land and the culture was something I also identified with very much. It helped me feel even more connected doing the project with them.”

Boivin and Quinn brought these ideas back to the studio to brainstorm, taking inspiration from the landscape photography of Brendan Forward. Using Photoshop, they merged Forward’s pictures with concepts provided by the youth to create five panels that portray Eeyou Istchee.

“They love the land in every season and wanted to see that in the murals,” said Quinn. “We were asked to write uplifting and inspiring quotes to go with each mural and had them translated into Cree. The concept and designs that came from these ideas from the youth were beautiful!”

About 20 young members of the community participated in the painting. Boivin and Quinn had drawn outlines on the panels and mixed the paints, creating a welcoming environment for beginners to contribute.

One youth, Leah Matoush, demonstrated particular initiative. She came every day, completing an entire panel herself with a little guidance from the experts. Her signature can be seen on the “Journey Walkers” panel.

“It was incredible for us to witness her growth and talent as an artist!” Quinn exclaimed.

Each mural depicts culturally significant aspects of the land and people, including a toddler glimpsing canoes through the mist after his Walking Out Ceremony, a young girl calling geese at sunset, a moose grazing peacefully in a forest, and a traditionally dressed woman gazing at the Northern Lights as the roots of a tree glow beneath her feet.

The Mistissini youth centre is an important social hub for the community’s younger members. The murals are a permanent addition to its common area, offering the wisdom that might be heard from an Elder, and will serve as a source of pride in Cree culture.

The murals received an enthusiastic reaction from the three-dozen people who attended the unveiling. Chief Richard Shecapio said he loved the images and that the ideas had come from the youth. Deputy Chief Gerald Longchap said he could stay for hours just looking, while others were visibly emotional to see the youth connected to the land and culture.

Quinn and Boivin intend to continue pursuing similar projects, working with youth and other organizations for team-building projects.

One of Quinn’s favourite moments came as they were putting the finishing touches on the murals and she noticed a shy teenager standing in the back. He told her he was drawn to the murals, and that they made him feel connected, peaceful and happy.

“I am sure that the murals will have the same effect on other youth for years to come,” she observed. “That is what we want the most – to bring peace, joy, pride and inspiration to all through our art!”

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