Standing in front of Dolly Deals’ mural in St. Henri, all I could think of was the voice of the first man I heard speak at the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in Montréal in April 2013.[i] It was the shyness and shame in his voice that struck me full in the chest and had me weeping before I could even sit down. I didn’t sit down. For the next few hours, I stood with my back against the wall, tears streaming down my face, listening to gentle and courageous voices carrying unbearable pain.
Dolly Deals’ mural gives voice to the Indigenous children who never made it home from residential school. Some died there, far from their families, without their parents knowing how or when they died or where they were buried. Some died trying to make their way back home after running away from residential school.
“Hundreds of schools. Hundreds of years. Every place, every student had their own stories. I don’t know that I could summarize that. It’s not so much one big problem. It’s thousands and thousands of individual people’s trauma. There was a system set up where abusing and using and torturing children was easy – was essentially legal. Government did get involved in residential schools in a significant way…. No one really cared except us, obviously, ‘cause we were the ones living with that….” (Source: video interview with Dolly, Unceded Voices 2017, https://decolonizingstreetart.com/)
All photos in this piece were taken by Jody Freeman. Special thanks to Freda Guttman for her impassioned tour of these mural sites in her neighbourhood. Her series of street art on “Acknowledging History, Unsettling Canada” exposes the colonial abuses of the Indian Act of 1867 and current-day practices of the Canadian government.
[i] For information on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, visit its website at http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=3/
[ii] For more on Mary Two-Axe Earley, see https://decolonizingstreetart.com/shanna-strauss/; and on Ellen Gabriel and her art, http://www.nativelynx.qc.ca/en/visual-arts/first-nations-artists/ellen-gabriel/