Chief Julius School unveils wall of photos in tribute to Fort McPherson elders and grandparents

·2 min read
The Elder/Grandparent Wall at Chief Julius School in Fort McPherson currently features 121 photos. (Submitted by Tena Blake - image credit)
The Elder/Grandparent Wall at Chief Julius School in Fort McPherson currently features 121 photos. (Submitted by Tena Blake - image credit)

Images line a wall in Chief Julius School in Fort McPherson, N.W.T. — photos of elders and grandparents from around the community beaming down at students who pass by.

They surround a quote attributed to Gandhi: "A nation's culture resides in the hearts and in the souls of its people."

For Tena Blake, a support assistant at the school who spearheaded the project, it was a way to connect students with their family and community. It expanded on a wall of photos started years ago by Gwich'in Elder Neil Colin.

Over time, some of those photos had been damaged by a leaky roof, some had fallen and broke, and others had been given to families.

"I really wanted to take his idea and build on it, because there were many elders that weren't there," Blake said.

"We really wanted … every student to be able to walk down the wall, and point — 'There's my jijuu, there's my jijii, these are my great grandparents, there's my auntie, my uncle' — so everyone would recognize somebody."

Room for many more

There are 121 photos on that wall right now, and Blake is determined to see that number to grow.

"It turned out better than I envisioned it, and I can't wait for it to just keep going," she said. "Maybe we're going to need some new walls at Chief Julius School — we're going to run out of room."

She's welcoming any photos from families who have a photo of an elder or grandparent to contribute. There's no age restriction, either, meaning you don't have to be 65 years old to get your photo up there.

"I remember I contacted one lady and she was like, 'I'm not 65!' And I laughed. I said, 'But you have this many grandchildren in our school,'" Blake recalled.

"It's not about an age. It's about every student being able to be represented on the wall and be able to see their family."

Her personal favourite is a photo of Rachel Stewart, her mother. Everyone has their own favourite photo, she added, and the wall has become a place for people to visit and tell stories.

"Everybody's just happy, everybody that's stopping to look at the elders and grandparents wall," she said.

"It's just an ongoing project that I hope will never end, because elders never end."

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