Designs unveiled for mural project celebrating strong people and communities

·4 min read
The draft design of the Healthy Strong Families mural by Bracken Hanuse Corlett, Cody Fennell, Kaitlyn Nasogaluak, and Jamaine Vilan. The designs for six new planned Yellowknife murals were unveiled Wednesday. (Submitted by Mahalia Yakeleya-Newmark - image credit)
The draft design of the Healthy Strong Families mural by Bracken Hanuse Corlett, Cody Fennell, Kaitlyn Nasogaluak, and Jamaine Vilan. The designs for six new planned Yellowknife murals were unveiled Wednesday. (Submitted by Mahalia Yakeleya-Newmark - image credit)

On Wednesday the draft designs for murals going up around Yellowknife this summer were unveiled to the public.

"It was just beautiful and powerful and at times even a little bit overwhelming," said Mahalia Yakeleya-Newmark, a member of the Tulita Dene First Nations and co-founder of Strong people, Strong Communities, a group behind the project.

"There's just so much that goes behind a piece. When an artist does a piece of artwork and you're able to connect with it, I think is an incredible experience,"

"I think there was just so much love in that meeting and a lot of good feelings. It was really amazing to see the journey the artists have been on," said Kalina Newmark, Mahalia's sister and co-founder of the project.

The mural project started last year when the sisters put a call out for young artists in Yellowknife, Ndilo and Dettah, but Kalina says the project was actually years in the making.

"It's crazy to think about that not that long ago Mahalia and I were talking about this almost like a dream," she said. "I don't think we realised how it would happen, but to know that it's going to have an impact is pretty incredible."

The draft design of the Healthy Strong Women mural by Lianne Charlie, Melanie Jewell, and Kyla LeSage. 'The story of our mural is rooted in the teaching that hair carries our memories,' a description reads. 'Mother and daughter sit together in the center of this image, encircled with an abundance of ancestral memories.'
The draft design of the Healthy Strong Women mural by Lianne Charlie, Melanie Jewell, and Kyla LeSage. 'The story of our mural is rooted in the teaching that hair carries our memories,' a description reads. 'Mother and daughter sit together in the center of this image, encircled with an abundance of ancestral memories.'(Submitted by Mahalia Yakeleya-Newmark)

Mahalia said the project was originally intended to honour women, and in particular missing and murdered Indigenous women and their families. But it developed into six murals featuring women, men, elders, youth and babies, and members of the LGBTQ2S community.

"We believe in art as a catalyst for social change, as a place of healing and transformation, and we know that art can be really powerful in sharing our stories."

There are 21 artists involved, including 16 from the Northwest Territories, and more than 11 Indigenous nations represented.

'It made me feel like I was part of a bigger community'

Morgan Tsetta, a member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and an Indigenous filmmaker, is one of the youth artists working on the mural representing Healthy Strong Elders. She has been interested in art since she was 10 and that the project has really inspired her.

"The ... process of designing the mural as well has been really exciting to see, just from the brainstorming process to now," Tsetta said. "Seeing the design concept and the sketching and just how we go back and forth — that's just been a really amazing and rewarding process."

Tsetta's not only contributing as an artist for the mural project, but is also making a short documentary about the whole process.

A draft design of the Healthy Strong Elders mural by Chief Lady Bird,  Taalrumiq/Christina King, Morgan Tsetta, and Anara/Isabella King.
A draft design of the Healthy Strong Elders mural by Chief Lady Bird, Taalrumiq/Christina King, Morgan Tsetta, and Anara/Isabella King.(Submitted by Mahalia Yakeleya-Newmark)

"I'm really excited with being able to ... [showcase] all of these amazing artists through a video form."

Kaityln Nasogaluak is of Sahtu Dene and Inuvialuit descent. She said though the project has taken a lot of work, it's been really inspiring to work and be mentored by other Indigenous artists.

"It made me feel like I was part of a bigger community," she said. "It made me feel less alone and less isolated."

Nasogaluak is working on the Healthy Strong Families and Communities mural.

"I [looked] at my family, I [looked] at what other families do with each other or appreciate and value each other. Doing the research and putting it together with the artwork is one of the best things that I've done," she said.

The sisters behind the project also invited elders, role models, knowledge keepers and musicians to speak with the groups and share stories.

"They also received feedback on their murals," she said. "Many of the murals then actually shifted a little bit because they wanted to incorporate some of what they heard from the community."

The mural painting will happen near the last two weeks of August and Mahalia invites any business who would like to host a mural on their walls to reach out.

The sisters are not sure what the future will be for Strong People, Strong Communities after this project comes to an end, but says it will always live through the artist and paintings themselves.

"Ultimately what we hope is this project really shines a light on the artists and that they get incredible opportunities," said Mahalia.

"Mahalia and I would love to continue it, but I think the outcome of others taking on the work would also be incredible," added Kalina.

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