To bridge the gap between what is a healing space and a place of true belonging is no small enterprise.
However, under the eloquent vision of Kahnawa’kehró:non artist Megan Kanerahtenhá:wi Whyte, these intentions merged with a newly completed mural at the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre (KMHC) garden healing space.
Upon seeing the soft stone ground of the circular outdoor space, she was asked to reconceptualize, Whyte recounted instantly imagining the shape as a turtle’s back.
The vivid colours of the mural stand out in the area surrounded by wooden reclining chairs, bushes and flowerpots. A galactic background with shining moons of different colours stretch across the turtle’s shell where strawberry vines peak from underneath.
“As I thought about our creation stories, specifically the story of Sky Woman, I thought about how she falls through the sky and how dark that fall could feel,” said Whyte. “Sometimes physical and mental illness, or any other type of ailment, can also feel like this long and dark fall.”
Inspired by the story of Atsi’tsaká:ion, Whyte soon began to see the stones as the back of a turtle’s shell.
She envisioned Sky Woman taking her first steps on what is now Turtle Island – all the while leaving moccasin foot trails which line the inner edge of the turtle’s back.
“The moccasins represent the first steps of creation,” explained the artist. “This way, anybody who is in that sacred space can feel that they too are part of creation, and that they too are important, valued, loved and so critical to this Earth that we live upon.”
Under traditional teachings, the turtle’s shell also represents the lunar calendar, which counts 13 moon cycles. In keeping with the ancient and sacred ways she wished to incorporate in the space, Whyte meticulously painted 13 moons onto the turtle’s 13 large scales – each one representing a month.
Twenty-eight smaller moons circle the outer shell; each moon with a shadow depicting the different stages of the 28-day journey it completes across the earth each month.
“It was all about how things change, grow and heal. How if you’re in this dark spot, it won’t last forever,” explained Whyte, who is also an art therapist.
“The natural world shows us time and again that things get better as they grow, blossom, harvest and finally go to die. The cycle continues and we’re all a valued part of that,” she continued.
The final element included in the mural are strawberry vines that intertwine as they line the outskirt of the turtle back.
While creating this project, Whyte felt innately connected with the land that she mindfully painted onto.
“I was constantly in sync with the weather because there was rain and heat to work with,” she pointed out. “For me, it was interesting to follow the natural cycles while being outdoors creating this mural. I feel that all this energy also contributed to the making of this space.”
As the garden space opens up to KMHC staff and patients for traditional ceremonies, Whyte said it was crucial to her that the space reflects the traditional healing values, which guide Kanien’kehá:ka throughout times of need.
“By creating the mural in such a symbolic way, my intention was for it to invite people to be part of this space,” said Whyte. “This way, they too will be part of the narrative of these stories and teachings that our ancestors have carried forever.”
Laurence Brisson Dubreuil, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door