ARTbrain Cedar Summer – learning about Truth and Reconciliation

I think that Truth and Reconciliation is the most important conversation of our times, and full of so many interesting aspects for all of us.  Yet people with disabilities are almost always left out of the conversation.  There are so many parallels to our stories that we think it is important to foster discussion about it.  As Indigenous people were moved into Residential Schools and Indian Hospitals, people with disabilities were hospitalised.  I talked to retired social workers from Woodlands who took Indigenous children out of Indian Hospitals and into Woodlands to keep them “safer.”  The Woodlands Memorial garden contains many tombstones that are Indigenous names.  Today people saw many similarities in our stories and felt like they wanted to do more to further Truth and Reconciliation.  117886651_597123950974891_5568701739994767900_n118186851_785462228930071_8849938590272998953_n

The ARTbrain project hopes to support adults with disabilities to learn about leadership by learning about their own learning styles, neural development, brain based learning.  Dr. Susan Powell and I work with the small group to come up with interests they want to research and learn about, and then we research art and art history, and make art based on the learning we all want to do, which we use to foster discussions.  This is an idea I’ve wanted to try out for years, and I’ve been so glad to do with it Susan, who is such an effective curriculum developer and teacher.  We’ve both learned so much.  Participants also report that they’ve learned a lot about themselves, our culture, leadership and communication.

Phase One was supported by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture in a lovely small grant that gave us so much capacity, and by Spectrum Society.  Phase Two has been supported through private donations and Spectrum Society and we are looking into more funding as people want to continue beyond October.

Today was a dream come true in that after various approaches we found that people were really responding to the idea of researching cedar trees, and part of that was the important cultural role that cedar trees play in Indigenous culture.  Susan’s homework for us over the last month was to take a photo of a cedar tree, and then see it in a different perspective (closer up, at a different time of day, later in the season, etc.) and then make an art work based on that.  We invited in my colleague and friend Priscilla Omulo and she led a conversation about what people were learning and how their ideas resonated within Indigenous culture.  Priscilla smudged all of us, almost all for the first time, explaining all the steps, and then explained all the ways that Indigenous people created a renewable, ecologically sound system of working with the cedar trees to create baskets, clothing, buildings, boats, medicines, etc..  I documented the conversation in my first graphic recording since April!  It was powerful and people were hungry for more “good medicine.”  It was great to spend some time together again – with our physically distanced little tables, lots of hand sanitizer and hand washing, and lots of awareness of who is in our “bubbles.”

I want to thank Selena for her last words today, thanking Priscilla for coming and “opening our hearts” in a new way by making a safe, respectful space where we could ask good questions and learn more about ourselves and Truth and Reconciliation.  I wish I’d got it on video.

If you’d like to make a targeted donation to support our work, you can do so through this link which accesses a fund Spectrum manages for us.  If you’re interested in this conversation we are thinking of hosting an open group on Zoom, perhaps in November, where Priscilla will present, ARTbrain folks will talk about what they’ve learned, and we will have lots of space for questions and activities.


Follow Priscilla on Instagram: priscillaomulo


Demonstrating impromptu collage with torn images on my shirt!  Barb thinks it is funny 🙂

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