Opening at Gallery 501, The Art of Truth and Reconciliation is made up of pieces from various points in Vancouver Island-based artist George Littlechild’s prolific career, but the themes he touches on are overarching. His work discusses Indian residential schools, the ‘60s scoop, and the intergenerational effects of those traumas, which still exist today.
As a self-identified biracial man with Cree heritage on his mother’s side and European on his father’s, Littlechild’s art has often conveyed his own story as a part of a greater Canadian story.
“I compare it to the Holocaust,” Littlechild says of Canada’s residential school history. “I have several Jewish friends, and the intergenerational effects that have occurred within the Jewish community are very similar to those in the First Nations’.”
Over the years, the crux of his work has touched on the traumas that either he experienced himself growing up, or members of his family had, something that carries into The Art of Truth and Reconciliation.
Littlechild was apart of the ‘60s scoop, which took thousands of Indigenous, Inuit, and Métis children from their parents in the ‘50s and ‘60s and placed them in foster homes with non-Indigenous families. Given this, Littlechild knows intimately the range of mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional impacts of that trauma on Indigenous people and their families today.
As a ‘60s scoop child, Littlechild has a unique perspective on his culture and the reality of intergenerational effects, being raised in various foster homes as a child, away from his siblings who grew up with their own series’ of obstacles.
His mother and both her parents were also forced to attend residential schools when they were young, which also exhibited as intergenerational effects that Littlechild saw in certain siblings upon returning home as an adult.
“We have to realize that these people came back from the [Residential] Schools, they didn’t speak their language, didn’t know their culture,” he says, “and the after effect of that is there’s a lot of people that were lost in so many ways: disassociation, not being able to love, not being able to nurture, they had lost the human touch—unless it was sexual abuse, that was the only touch they might have known as tragic as that is. They didn’t learn love, they didn’t know how to love.”
One piece being shown at the exhibition “Displaced Indians; The ‘60s Scoop,” was inspired by a talking circle he was once apart of.
“We would meet once a month and we’d bring food and smudge and we’d talk about our experiences being raised in foster care,” Littlechild says. “What I did is ask permission from each of the individuals who shared their stories if they’d be willing to write them down and I’d make this body of art around that.”
The 21-panel piece of both text and imagery that resulted is a collective narrative of testimonials from each of their childhoods.
A past video work, “I Carry Those Most Sacred On My Back,” will also be shown in The Art of Truth and Reconciliation. For the piece Littlechild grew out his hair for two years, experimenting with cultural identity and his complicated feelings growing up as a biracial boy in white families.
“It was really fascinating just the way people started treating me as my hair got longer,” he says. “I would have First Nations people give me the head nod in Vancouver … while some of the people I knew but weren’t good friends, [had] negative comments about my hair.”
Littlechild uses his work as a way to learn from and work through the collective wounds we as Canadians must all understand in order to heal, rather than dwell only upon the past. As an example of this, Littlechild’s next project focuses on his mother and her lost potential, passing away in her 30s. But rather than focusing only the sadness of her death, the series will show the beauty of her spirit and its gravity.
The point, he says, is to take the information presented and determine our own understandings of reconciliation with what we see, learn, and feel amongst the pieces and their stories.
Fri., Mar. 9 – Sun., Apr. 29
The Art of Truth and Reconciliation
Gallery 501, Sherwood Park