Canada Post has unveiled four new stamps that encourage awareness and reflection on the tragic legacy of Indian residential schools and the need for healing and reconciliation.
The stamp issue is the first in an annual series showcasing the visions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis artists for the future of truth and reconciliation. The stamps are being released on September 29, in connection with the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30.
Between the 1830s and the 1990s, more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children across Canada were taken from their families and sent to federally created Indian residential schools. They were stripped of their languages, cultures and spiritual traditions and forced to assimilate into white society. Children endured unsafe conditions, disease, and physical, sexual and emotional abuse while at the church-run schools. Thousands of them never made it home. Residential school Survivors continue to experience trauma from their time at the institutions, and that has been passed down to successive generations.
The four-stamp issue will help Canadians acknowledge and reflect on the injustices and trauma that have been inflicted on generations of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples. The stamps also call attention to the responsibility all Canadians have in reconciliation. The stamps are cancelled in Brantford, Ontario, the site of the Mohawk Institute, whose opening in the early 1830s made it Canada’s first Indian residential school. The Indigenous languages found on the stamps represent the language and dialect of the artists who created the work.
Jackie Traverse, First Nations artist (Lake St. Martin, Manitoba) – Anishinaabe, Ojibwe
This image represents seeds of change. Here we have man and woman, the Elders, their children and their grandchildren. I’ve put the (unofficial) national flower, the bunchberry, in the centre to represent Canada, with the roots from the seeds reaching to the past. For all of us to experience a good harvest we need to share the sun, water and land. This is how we bring forth good crops and ensure everyone has the harvest of tomorrow.
Traverse’s mother died at a young age and her siblings were apprehended in the Sixties Scoop. She grew up in one of Winnipeg’s toughest neighbourhoods. Traverse is a multi-disciplined Indigenous artist who works in several media, from oil and acrylic paintings to mixed media, stop-motion animation and sculpture. She draws inspiration from her Indigenous culture and her experiences as an Indigenous woman living in Winnipeg. Her paintings, drawings, documentaries, and sculptures speak to the realities of being an Indigenous woman.
“When I painted the stamp, I had quite a bit of emotions because they had already discovered the children at Kamloops. That really affected me. Being a mother and a grandmother, I thought of my own children. Also, I grew up in care so I thought ‘That could have easily happened to me as a child,’” Traverse says.
“I thought about the opportunity to express myself with my artwork and to portray both sides of it, that this is the past and these are our stories. But there’s also the chance for growth and more opportunity and a better life.”
Gayle Uyagaqi Kabloona, Inuit artist – Qamani’tuaq (Baker Lake, Nunavut)
I believe each group within Canada has a different responsibility for reconciliation. For Indigenous People, our responsibility is to ourselves and to others within our communities: learning or passing on our language and culture that was attacked only one generation ago. I created a woman lighting a qulliq (QUL-liq), the traditional Inuit stone lamp used for heat and light to signify caretaking. This woman is carrying on in her culture as she has always done, taking care of herself and others and healing.
Originally from Baker Lake, Nunavut (and now living in Ottawa), Kabloona comes from a family of renowned Inuit artists. Art is how she connects with others within her culture, showcases her Inuit heritage, and expresses her Indigenous identity. Kabloona’s work puts a modern take on traditional Inuit imagery, and strong women frequently make appearances in her art. She co-founded a small group ceramics studio and has been teaching art as therapy at an addiction healing centre for Inuit, located in Ottawa. Last year, Kabloona was awarded a residency at the Art Gallery of Guelph, working with an Inuit curator, and created a new piece to be shown alongside her grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s artwork from the gallery’s collection.
“I wanted to do an artwork that kind of blocked out the external influence of settler Canadians and the settler state and focused on the strength and continuity of Inuit culture,” Kabloona says.
“I think in order for reconciliation to begin, I would like to have a conversation with people who are not Indigenous, and have them be able to talk about it, to have some idea of what my culture or my life has been like, the inequality involved in being an Indigenous person in the country.”
Kim Gullion Stewart, Métis artist – Athabasca, Alberta (currently lives in Pinantan Lake, British Columbia)
Flowers in Métis art remind people to live in a symbiotic way with land, waterways, ecosystems and one another. In this piece I have placed beaded flowers on top of contour lines representing the Rocky Mountains, twisty lines for rivers and dashes demarking political territories. While maps like this one are a two-dimensional record of historical process and places, they are incomplete until they include elements that are important to the people who are Indigenous on this continent.
Gullion Stewart was born in Athabasca, Alberta. Her father’s heritage connects her to the Métis homeland of Red River, Man. She creates metaphorical meaning by connecting Métis cultural art forms (hide tanning, beading, quillwork) with contemporary and graphic art forms. In her art, she searches to uncover the depths of her Métis identity and learn Métis knowledge systems that have been hidden, lost or adapted as a survival mechanism. She is inspired by what Métis leader Louis Riel (1844-85) once said: “My people will sleep for 100 years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.”
“When I’m creating my work, I’m very aware of the fact that artwork is a way in. It’s often a way in for people to open up conversation, to talk about things that are difficult, but to also talk about things that are joyful, and also to talk about things that could be solutions for the future,” she says.
“Truth and reconciliation is important to all people because it allows us to become community again, instead of an us and them, instead of a me, we become a we.”
Blair Thomson, artist and graphic designer
A pair of bold hands are held over the eyes and human face. Intended to be cross-representative — those of Indigenous Peoples/Survivors, covering their face in sadness, pain, memories, and those of the settler, masking their view of reality and shame. Tears stream from between the fingers. The background further connects to the school windows, looking out and dreaming of home. The eyes looking out from behind the hands reinforce the message that settlers must ‘never look away again.’
Thomson is the founder and creative director of Believe in, a design practice with studios in Canada and the United Kingdom. A harmony between strategic foundation, unique ideas and beautiful outcomes lies at the heart of Thomson’s approach and creative processes. His work is multi-award winning and has been featured in many leading design publications worldwide. He is the collector, archivist and historian responsible for Canada Modern (an archive of modernist, Canadian graphic design from 1960-85).
“Canadians must do more than talk about reconciliation. We must challenge ourselves to deepen our collective awareness of our dark and painful history. We must learn harsh lessons from it and take the time to reflect so that we begin to walk the path of healing and reconciliation together, moving forward but never forgetting the past,” Thomson says.
“So even something as omnipresent as a postage stamp could be the start of a journey forward which could make changes that are needed.”
New stamps showcase Indigenous artists’ visions for future of truth and reconciliationAvailable now