In Six Nations of the Grand culture, there is much emphasis on the ‘Two Row Wampum’ It is a woven belt with two purple lines parallel to each other and signifies the path of indigenous peoples traveling the same course as the non-native community, walking together but not crossing into each other’s path.
The Six Nations Polytechnic, Brantford Campus recently unveiled a mural above the entrance hall of the campus. The irony is not lost on the attendees that the two artists involved were Raymond Skye from Six Nations and Mike Swanson from Brant. Not only does their collaboration share the relationship of the wampum, but the gentlemen themselves both began their artistic training at the same institution, Mohawk College, also now the site of the new Six Nations Polytechnic itself.
Skye, as the Art Director, was commissioned to create a four-panel mural reflection of the historical and cultural significance of the Haudenosaunee nation. He developed the pencil story-boards of the separate pieces and brought Swanson in with him to add illustration and technical expertise to fit the wall-as-canvas environment. They worked together over a year to produce this magnificent work. Ray, never having done such a large project originally titled it “Gotta Do A Mural’ project.
When he asked Swanson, on the first meeting, what his advice would be, Skye heard, ‘Get a ladder and a large brush.’ A perfect sense of humility and humour that carried them through the development.
The event, hosted by Rebecca Jamieson CEO of the institution, was attended by students and staff from Polytechnic as well as local politicians, Brantford Mayor Kevin Davis and Councillor John Utley, Chief Ava Hill from Six Nations, Milan Novakovic, representing the office of Will Bouma M.P.P.
Also attending were Nicole Drake, Manager of Tourism from Brantford Tourism and Amy Lickers, Political Advisor for the Six Nations Council.
Jamieson was honoured that this art work supported the institution vision of ‘Gathering of Good Minds’.
Davis appreciated, as a former of Governor of Mohawk College, that the Polytechnic was re-purposing the structure since Mohawk’s closure and that this new mural “respects the history of the indigenous people and the continuing relationship building with neighbours.”
Chief Hill lauded a new initiative “to share the history of our art history and culture especially as seen through the eyes of a featured artist in our community.”
In Skye’s own words, ‘this mural is a journey through time, even though the imagery could be ten-fold, with research the story has yet to be completely told.’
Skye went on to elaborate on each panel.
Panel 1: Ancient times
“The people learned by sitting in nature and listening to elders. The elders encouraged living and experiencing the knowledge as the most rewarding way of learning. Skye reflected on his own upbringing learning from his father and as a little boy, it sets into your heart and soul as you gain wisdom in this manner.”
Panel 2: Era of Wampum
“This was a sacred gift from the creator giving insight into the origins, the why and the how of a culture both spiritually and politically.’ The European explorers arrived and learned from the Haudenosaunee people to discover years and years of association. This journey changed our lives as well as the Europeans…changed for all and forever.”
Panel 3: Emotional Time
“The Residential Schools and how our people were thrown into them and the trails and tribulations is personal for us. My father experienced it and shared the stories with me. He was punished for speaking in any of the four indigenous languages he knew. He never spoke English at home. Even though I never learned how to speak to him in our languages, he pulled me back to my roots and so the sadness is shown in the faces of the children of my generation in the panel.”
Panel 4: Modernization
“We are still here!”
“We are still the people we were!”
“However we gain knowledge, education is there to help us. It helps in life to sustain and retain cultural perspective. We see in the mural that graduates here can imagine a reflection of themselves holding the wampum.”