A unique First Nation children’s art exhibit will be co-hosted by the Okanagan Heritage Museum and Kelowna Art Gallery from Jan. 19 to April 14.
Titled ‘Our Lives Through Our Eyes: Nk’Mip Children’s Art,’ the exhibit is a collection of 70 works of art created by youth who attended the Inkameep Day School in Osoyoos during the Second World War era.
The exhibition features graphite drawings along with paintings on paper and animal hide, coupled with archival photographs and interpretive panels to give people a glimpse of what life for these children was like, their long-held cultural traditions and history being countered by social and political changes introduced by non-aboriginal settlers.
Nataley Nagy, executive director of Kelowna Art Gallery, said the exhibit marks a culmination of years of discussion and setbacks dating back to 2010 to bring a prominent youth art exhibition to Kelowna, an initiative the Okanagan Heritage Museum would eventually also eventually join.
Speaking at the school district student services and education committee meeting on Wednesday, Nagy said that idea dates back to when she arrived to take the helm of the Kelowna Art Gallery in 2010, championed by school district assistant superintendent Terry-Lee Beaudry and then art gallery education officer director Renee Burgess.
In 2013, their collective focus was drawn to the Witness Blanket exhibit, a 12-metre-long quilt project by Vancouver Island artist Carey Newman that features 887 objects from Canada’s Indigenous residential schools and assembled like a traditional blanket.
The exhibit had proven extremely popular and an exhibit booking was secured for the Kelowna Art Gallery in 2019.
“By 2015, I started to see the expenses with what would be bringing the exhibit here from the Yukon and incurring all the costs associated with that, and I went to Terry-Lee wondering how could we afford to do this and still do the eight professional exhibits we are committed to showing each year,” Nagy recalled.
“But she was incredibly persistent about this as she had been all along, saying we will find a way to make this happen.”
But those plans were dashed when the exhibit was taken off the art gallery showing circuit, due to wear and tear that resulted in it requiring repairs at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg.
“We were offered a showing of the documentary that was made about the Witness Blanket but that is not the same as seeing the actual art in person,” she said.
In 2017, Nagy saw an exhibit in Victoria called ‘There Is Truth Here,’ featuring more than 700 drawings by children in residential schools across B.C. and Alberta that had been donated to the University of Victoria art collection.
“I found it very powerful and moving,” she said.
While that exhibit was already scheduled for a showing in Vancouver this year, the exhibit curator, UVIC anthropology professor Andrea Walsh, suggested they check out the availability of the Nk’Mip art exhibit compiled by the Osoyoos Indian Band and Osoyoos Museum Society.
Linda Digby, Kelowna Museum executive director, said the art exhibit offers a history lesson to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples—insight into the culture and traditions before the white colonialists arrived to settle in the Okanagan, and the impact that created in the years to follow.
Some 40 classes between Grades 3 and 8 in the district are already booked to visit the exhibit, involving some 1,100 students.
“The story of these children represents through their art shows a strength, a resiliency and creativity of these young people staring at the change coming to their environment,” Digby said.
Beaudry said plans are in the works to have a reconciliation walk between the museum and art gallery at the conclusion of the exhibit in April.
“We are still planning that out but we will be hoping to see a robust crowd join us for the exhibit closing. It will help serve as a reminder we will be walking the trail of reconciliation for years to come,” Beaudry said.
The opening reception for the exhibit takes place Saturday, Jan. 19, 1 to 3 p.m., beginning at the Kelowna Art Gallery and moving over to the Kelowna Museum at 2 p.m. Guided tours will subsequently be offered at 1 p.m. on Saturdays.
Other workshops planned for specific Saturdays, 10 a.m. to noon, in conjunction with the exhibit include: Living the Seasons-Syilx (Okanagan) calendar Feb. 2, 10 a.m. to noon, at the Kelowna Art Gallery; Everything you wanted to know about Indians but were afraid to ask, March 2, Okanagan Heritage Museum; Our Shared History-Talking Circle March 16, Okanagan Heritage Museum; and Fire and Water-Syilx (Okanagan) Relationship with the Land, April 13, Kelowna Art Gallery.
The Kelowna Art Gallery is located at 1315 Water St., and Okanagan Heritage Museum at 470 Queensway Ave.