The next time you’re driving through downtown Fort St. John, look up.
You’ll see the latest instalments of the art council’s street banner program, Where Happiness Dwells, created by four young artists from the Doig and Blueberry River First Nations.
“It’s very inspiring for myself because I didn’t know I’d ever get an opportunity to do this,” said Tahliyah Herle, a Grade 12 student and aspiring animator, after an unveiling outside the ArtsPost on Sept. 30, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Herle's banner features a large and graceful swan swooping over a shining sunrise, or a glowing sunset, however you choose to look at it.
“In our culture, the swan is the only thing that can go up to heaven and back. It represents the spirits, the children,” she said.
The three other artists who took part in the project were Justice Adekat, Savannah Lagace, and Teneshia Yahey.
"It makes me feel proud; proud of my heritage, my culture, that people are making it more aware and involving more people in it," said Lagace, whose banner features four drummers playing in a circle.
"My inspiration came from watching drumming when I was a little girl; having it be a part of ceremony, celebration... it just brings everyone together."
"I think it’s awesome," she added of seeing her art on public display in the city. "It makes me feel so fulfilled."
In Teneshia Yahey’s banner, two rivers flowing through the mountains merge into one, a symbol of reconciliation.
There is also Beaver to represent the animal’s cultural significance to the Dane-zaa people, and a drum to represent Charlie Yahey, a great dreamer in their culture.
“A lot of the things that are happening today he dreamt about. He’s a really big part of our people and our history,” said Yahey, also taking inspiration from nature. “A lot of our history is in the mountains, a lot of our medicines."
“It’s given me a lot of time to be more creative, and think about our history here… who we are and where we come from," said Yahey.
Justice Adekat’s banner features a medicine wheel encircling a mountainous landscape, the feathers of a dreamcatcher swaying below.
“When I was asked to do this, I was working on the reserve so I was surrounded by all the elders and all the people that I’ve grown up with… it helped a lot because I got to hear stories and hear them speak their language more than I did when I was younger,” Adekat said.
“Listening to them speak about stuff like this and helping make programs for healing helped me bring this light.”
The banners were produced in partnership between the arts council and the city, which includes an honorarium for artists. You can see the banners on the streetlights lining 100 Street and 100 Avenue.
Arts council president Rosemary Landry says the goal and focus for this year’s banner program was truth and reconciliation.
“They're absolutely beautiful, the colours are gorgeous,” Landry said, noting the two languages featured on the banners was a conscious choice to recognize the efforts to revitalize the Beaver language among local First Nations.
"We're really excited. The artists have done such a great job that they need to be honoured," she said. "This is the greatest day to do it on."
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