Christi Belcourt describes 'Giniigaaniimenaaning'

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Transcript: Christi Belcourt describes "Giniigaaniimenaaning"

It is a story, done visually that begins at the bottom left, with the bottom left panel and as your eye moves upwards, in the left panel to the top window and down to the bottom right glass design tells a story of Aboriginal people with our ceremonies, languages and cultural knowledge intact. Through the darkness of the residential school era to an awaking sounded by a drum, an apology spoken to the heart, hope for reconciliation, transformation and healing through dance, ceremony, languages and resilience to the present day.

Giniigaaniimenaaning means looking ahead, but as it's been explained to me by Mide Kiwenzie, it also contains a deeper meaning that it means everyone is looking ahead towards the future for the ones yet unborn.

At the bottom left, you will see an ancestor smokes in the sacred lodge and the West, as represented by the button blanket motif, to the East represented by the sky dome, our ceremonies, languages and knowledge were intact. This section represents the time before residential schools existed. Important ceremonies marking the transition from childhood to adulthood, such as the ‘Strawberry Fast' were taught and practiced. Harvesting blueberries, learning about medicines, the knowledge of plants and animals were passed from one generation to the next. Beadwork and beautiful artwork, quill work reflecting our pride adorned our clothing and our sacred items. The roots represented the connection to the earth and to our ancestors.

In the middle section, this was the most difficult to do, because it obviously carries a lot of weight. It is estimated that more than 150,000 children were forcibly removed from their homes and subjected to unimaginable horrific abuses. I had heard at one point, I think in 1902, the statistics were that 50 per cent of all new children entering residential schools were passing away: a 50 per cent death rate. In many cases, parents were not informed that their children were gone. This is something we need to, we need to keep in mind.

As Prime Minister Steven Harper stated in the statement of apology of June eleventh, the objective of the residential schools were, and I quote, "to remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures."

The children shown here are from historical photographs and some are just my own renderings of children. The building is of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School and its included here because buildings were, they were like the prisons. The RCMP were engaged in the residential school policies, they were told to bring children back when they ran away. And so these buildings became the prisons for all of the children. They weren't able to express the abuses they were enduring.

The top glass, but between the top and this middle panel there's shattered glass, and that shattered glass represents the shattering of families, the shattering of communities, the shattering of people's lives, but it also represents the shattering of the silence that people were unable to speak about those abuses as they grew into adulthood. And in 1990, Phil Fontaine, then the Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs who obviously we all know, became the National Chief of Assembly of First Nations, became the first Aboriginal leader to publicly speak about the abuses he suffered at residential school. And it should be made clear that there were many people speaking about the abuses before Chief Phil Fontaine spoke about his, but perhaps his was like a straw on a camel's back, it got into the main stream and people began to pay attention.

The drum dancer here is sounding the beginning of the healing. The circles move up from out and out from behind the drum representing the transformation that governments and churches made from initial positions of denial to acceptance and finally to acknowledgement and admission paving the way for an apology. The snow falls and the moon glows from the Northern sky and the dove with the olive branch brings an offering of hope and the beginning of reconciliation for the renewal of the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the rest of Canada.

The top glass section commemorates the official statement of apology on June eleventh, 2008. Reaction to the apology ranged from skepticism to gratefulness. Some people were rightfully so skeptic about the apology. However, others took it to heart and with a good heart and in a good way they wanted to move forward. Prime Minister Steven Harper when he spoke the words, "The government of Canada sincerely apologies and asks forgiveness of the Aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly." No matter how anybody took it, I didn't think there was anybody that wasn't moved.

On the next panel, on the top, as in the left panel the circles emerge and transform into a fully visible sun. The sun rises and represents not only transformation, but importantly as Mary Simon, who was a president of ITK said in her official reaction on the floor of the House of Commons; "I am filled with optimism. A new day has dawned. A new day heralded by the commitment to reconciliation and building a new relationship with Inuit, Métis and First Nations."

The lines flowing from the sun are meant to convey the concept of moving from the present into the future. The colours embodied, the colours used with the different medicine wheels, the sun dance and the Midewin lodges at the Métis sash. The yellow, the black, the red, the white, the green and the blue together with the left panel of the sun and moon represent the cycles of life and the seasons of change. The jingle dress is a sacred dress. It's a healing dress that is now used throughout North America and in this panel the jingle dress dancer is an Elder who is a survivor of residential school and she is dancing for the healing of all her people in the future generations. In the middle section, the colour in lines moves a soundly to the present day thinking about the future. The young mother embraces her baby in a traditional moss bag. The child is back with her mother as she should be, representing children being raised by their parents and the breaking of the cycle of abuse. Her grandfather sings a traditional song signifying the restoration of songs, dance ceremonies and languages.

Hidden within the panel which you cannot see now, but which will be in the glass are going to be written in various Aboriginal languages the words "I love you" and "I love you my child". "Gizhawenamin Niichaanis" meaning – because so many parents as they were victims of residential schools – were unable to say ‘I love you' to their children. Children grew up, who are Elders now who'd never hearing those words, ‘I love you'. By embedding these words into the glass design, we are solidifying the existence of Aboriginal languages that continues today. And we are honoring those families who couldn't say that to each other.

At the bottom, the circle is complete. Presently, traditional ceremonies take place throughout the year. The grandmother sits in her lodge smoking her pipe for her grandchildren. Potlatch ceremonies take place, salmon and sturgeon ceremonies are ongoing, the Sundance lodges are erected, the Midewin lodges are no longer whispered about. Puberty ceremonies are being practiced. Traditional knowledge about medicines is being taught. For East to West the foundations of our culture are being brought back and made hole. And there is hope and a new respect for Aboriginal cultures within the rest of Canada as we are witness to our own strength and our own resilience.

And the last piece of the design which you cannot really see is the figure of a woman. It's the shape of a woman and that is to signify Mother Earth because the land is so integral to our being we consider the land sacred; although, it's not obvious in there. So many of our traditions, cultures and ceremonies indeed are our very way of life are based on the connection with the land and interconnection with the spirit of the earth that it would be remised to design something concerning our people without including the earth in some form.

That is what is written for the design, but I would also like to add that there will be people who will say, "well, what will a glass do when there are so many unresolved issues to deal with issues about land, about the environment, treaties, Métis rights. There's real houses closing today. There are so many issues today that are not resolved. So what will a glass do?" But what we can say is that there will be 60,000 people walking through Parliament hill every year. And people will do their media scrum and they'll do everything underneath that glass. They'll always be reminded.

And the last thing I'd like to say is that, reconciliation is not just one sided. It's not just us healing ourselves. It's also reconciliation means the two sides coming together. So, I would just like to ask Canadians to please consider this when you are writing your replies to articles in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) on websites or to Global and Mail or to whatever news media there is out there. Aboriginal people have contributed great things to this country and we continue to do that. And we've always done it in a peaceful way. And we always have given, and given, and given. So don't just write your hate-filled comment that's so hurtful that doesn't do anything to bring us together as a country. We're going to be stronger if we come together, the two sides respecting each other. Miigwetch

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