New mural at Winnipeg city hall by Anishinaabe artist meant to signify the human spirit

December 9, 2021
New mural at Winnipeg city hall by Anishinaabe artist meant to signify the human spirit

A new mural unveiled Tuesday at Winnipeg City Hall is meant to invoke connectedness and spirit, as part of the city’s long-term commitment on equity, diversity, and anti-racism. 

“What better and more appropriate space for that really important message to be,” said Jeannie White Bird, the creator of the mural.

White Bird, an emerging artist from Rolling River First Nation who lives in Selkirk, Man., collaborated on the piece with muralist Charles Johnston and assistant Ellen Hart. 

The piece was given an Anishinaabemowin name Gakina Gidinawemaaganidim, by Elder Marcel McKay. It means “We are all related,” translated by Elder Roger Roulette. 

“It needs to be seen, it needs to be coming from the Indigenous voice, it needs to be shared in the public space, and the government needs to make that room, and that’s exactly what happened,” White Bird said.

The mural depicts maple trees, water, and stars. These are things White Bird said symbolize the connectedness of the human spirit. She said when you look at the open palm of a hand, it looks similar to a maple tree. 

“I hope the spiritual nature of the message is captured,” she said.

“I always think about our spirits within us. If we just close our eyes, that’s what we are. We happen to be spirits first and foremost.”  

Artist Jeannie White Bird, centre, with muralist Charles Johnston, right, and art assistant Ellen Hart, left. (Submitted by Jeannie White Bird )

Johnston said he has collaborated with Jeannie on a number of pieces, and said he feels it is his role to help communities have a stronger voice, while learning about Indigenous culture. He said mural art is “a kind of bullhorn for a community in order to speak their thoughts, express their culture, ideologies and values.”

Michael Jack, chief administrative officer for the City of Winnipeg, said this is part of ongoing work toward equity, diversity and inclusion in the city.

“We had a working group that involved a lot of members of the community around the table. The suggestion of a piece of art really to try and reflect and commemorate all of the work that was already going on … was really a popular idea,” said Jacks.

The mural’s five pieces will be displayed at other city buildings in coming months.

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