Imagine a Canada supports youth and leadership through the lens of reconciliation

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Felicity Coon-Come Brien of Voyageur Memorial High School in Mistissini was among the few chosen for her art for the Imagine a Canada national art and leadership initiative this year.

Brien’s artwork is one of 13 chosen from students across Canada. She will join other student artists in Winnipeg at the Imagine a Canada event May 30-June 1.

“I feel honoured,” said Brien upon hearing the news. “I was very surprised! I didn’t expect to win.”

The Imagine a Canada program is an initiative by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR). It invites school-aged artists of all ages to create artwork that envision a country through the lens of reconciliation. Now in its fourth year, Imagine a Canada has received over 100 submissions from across the country.

Organizers and participants will also travel to the Turtle Lodge community centre in Manitoba, where participants will share their vision with residential-school survivors. A closing ceremony will be held at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

“It’s scary,” Brien laughed. “I thought it was a joke at first.”

Her school and community congratulated Brien on the achievement: “You walk around and everyone knows you’re going to Winnipeg. Even people I don’t know are very proud.”

Her project came to fruition through the Mikw Chiâm program, which provides alternative spaces for students to participate in school and express themselves through art mediums. Students work directly with professional artists in residence.

“It’s been a transformation seeing her today compared to when she started the program three years ago,” noted Marcela Henriquez, a facilitator of the Mikw Chiyâm art program. “She is really committed to staying motivated in school, and making sure her projects are as unique as possible.”

Brien used mixed-media artwork to reflect the life of residential-school children after speaking with her grandmother and using educational online resources. Quotes in her artwork were gathered from survivors, and she used pictures of residential schools.

Henriquez notes the effects of residential schools and oppression of Indigenous culture are still felt in her community. Many of her students spoke first-hand with residential-school survivors as part of the Imagine a Canada program. “It’s a reality, not an abstract thing,” she added.

Kevin Lamoureux, the National Education Lead at NCTR, says that the burden is not to place responsibility of change on the shoulders of future generations but to provide them with a platform to create change. “When we bring young people together and let them do what they do naturally, I think there is reason to give hope,” he said.

Lamoureux sees the relationship between youth, leadership and reconciliation as a continuing process. “We should always be giving an opportunity for youth to share their voices, to know they’re always being listened to.”

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