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Indigenous art brings healing to the workplace


Above photo: At the Artist Honoring (l to r): Elder Roberta Price, Leslie Bonshor, Dr. Patty Daly, artist Paul Windsor and Chief Ian Campbell.

When you walk into the sunroom meeting room in the Aboriginal Health office, the newly painted ancestors hover larger than life size on the wall. You feel their grounding presence, connection to the past and that they are watching over you in a good way. 

This was the intention behind artists Paul Windsor, Heiltsuk and Jerry Whitehead, Cree, to paint murals in our office space as part of our effort to bring Indigenous culture into our facilities. Over several weeks, they transformed our space with colorful and vibrant murals that bring healing for our team and clients. It also models the kind of environment our program supports as part of the updatedIndigenous Cultural Safety (ICS) Policy to make Indigenous people feel welcome when they use our services.

Artist Honoring

To show our appreciation to the artists and celebrate the completion of their work we invited guests and held an honoring ceremony for the artists – as part of Indigenous custom.  

Dr. Patty Daly shared her thoughts on the importance of art as an expression of culture: “In my role as Chief Medical Health Officer, I understand the importance of culture to healing. The assertion of culture through art is an important contributor to the wellness and health of Indigenous people. Images like these murals that depict the strength and resiliency of Indigenous people can improve the client experience in all our health care facilities.”

Paul Windsor describes the intention behind his images below:


"It was such an honour when I entered the offices at VCH to be welcomed by the team and was informed that Jerry Whitehead would be collaborating in the same space! I have always wanted to collaborate with Jerry. We got talking and decided on a woman dressed in Northwest Coast regalia joining the Cree people that he depicts in his vivid and lively murals. It came about to paint abalone shell buttons and apply a Thunderbird to the blanket. The Thunderbird is a powerful spirit and people from parts of the Northwest and Cree connect to the Thunderbird."  

Feather and smudge bowl

"On my solo designs, the first and obvious choice was to design an abalone smudge bowl with a feather. I love designing feathers. The reason it was obvious was because there is a smudge ceremony area central to the talking circle area where this is painted. I like to smudge with cedar and sage. It cleanses the mind, purifies my thoughts and helps me stay calm when my energy is out of balance. The colours were chosen for Earth, medicine and to blend with the bright ochre yellow walls." 

Turtle Post

"The turtle post are a corner element of the mural where the water cooler is situated. It is there to represent water, the source of life, from ancient to new like turtles. It also connects to the meaning of Turtle Island. Lots of fun and love went into the turtle post. I noticed children sometimes come into the office. I kept them in mind as I designed and painted the turtles with fun, clean, youthful energy. It was my favourite part to paint alone."

Healing Welcome

"The pole at the entrance is relevantly titled 'Healing Welcome.' An alternate name may be 'A Warm Welcome' because the sun brightens the spirit crest characters depicted on the pole painting. Eagles are universal to cultures and crests. The Eagle holds a Raven feather for healing and communication, imagination, creation, relearning and to represent oral history. 

The salmon represents sustenance, survival and soul. I kept the Musquem, Squamish, Tsleil-Watuth Nations in mind and at heart while I designed and painted this welcome post. The rocks at the foundation stand for ancients, Grandfathers, Grandmothers, the Foundation and Inheritance and Spirit of Traditional Turtle Island.

The tree is representative of a young Kanalas (yellow cedar.) It was a request from one of the staff to paint a tree behind the totem pole entrance welcome.  Every tree has a spirit or spirits. I freehand painted this tree and put faces into the trunk. I love and connect to trees. They are the single greatest driving force and medicine behind the imagination and spirit of our culture."

SOURCE: Indigenous art brings healing to the workplace ( )
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