Honouring every child

Lila White and artist Leslie Homes show off a painting by Holmes called Dancing Memengwaag. The inspiration for the piece came from a photograph taken by Emily Field of the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance in honour of Indigenous Day. White, a Grade 6 student in Chatham, and Coral Fenner are the subjects in the photo and painting.

By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Lila White knows that ‘Every Child Matters.’

That’s why the young woman is doing her best to honour Canada’s residential school survivors.

Not only did the Grade 6 student make 400 feathered pins to hand out on Orange Shirt Day, a picture of her and another woman outfitted in traditional dress has become the cover photo of the new C-K Today calendar, as well as being the inspiration for an artist’s painting.

“This means a lot to me,” said White, while attending a gathering Sept. 30 at the new Ska:Na Family Learning Centre in Chatham.

The grassy area beside the building on Eighth Street was ablaze with orange, as various agencies, dancers, drummers and citizens joined to honour residential school survivors, and for the youngsters who never made it home.

“It means our culture gets recognized,” said the soft-spoken White, who is also a traditional dancer.

The Georges P. Vanier Catholic School pupil said taking part in the event is a way to “honour the children who attended residential schools.”

White, whose Anishinaabe name is Mu sko-Geezhigo kwe, or ‘Red Sky Woman’ in English, is of Ojibwe and Indigenous descent. She’s been learning about the traditional ways since she was born.

Her mom, Julia Dyer, said the inspiration for the photo and subsequent painting came from a Chatham-Kent Health Alliance photo shoot on the banks of Thames to mark Indigenous Day June 21.

Dyer said Lila wore her pink shawl, and Coral Fenner donned a borrowed multi-coloured garment for the photo.

The two faced the water, Dyer said, because “water is life.”

Through word of mouth, Essex artist Leslie Holmes got in on the act. She used the photo to create a painting Lila has named ‘Dancing Memengwaag,’ to honour Indigenous culture and residential school survivors.

A friend contacted Holmes about reproducing the photograph. The ‘Dancing’ painting and another she’s made of young warriors in headdress will be auctioned off to support the Chatham-Kent Every Child Matters Committee.

Various sized prints are also being sold.

When it comes to helping right the wrongs inflicted by residential schools, Holmes said we can all play a role.

“Everyone can get involved and find a way to contribute,” she explained.

Held at the Ska:Na facility, which is still under construction, the day also marked Canada’s inaugural Truth and Reconciliation Day.

Faith Hale, the executive director of the Chatham facility, said it and its sister property in Wallaceburg are expected to open in mid-October.

Each site will offer 49 spaces for youngsters, along with a variety of services, including trauma-informed programming.

“We are open to all children,” Hale said, noting Ska:Na takes a “holistic and land-based approach” to learning and childcare.

The two new sites have been developed in conjunction with municipal partners in Chatham-Kent, she said, adding Ska:Na now has seven sites, including facilities and programs in Sarnia-Lambton and Essex County.

Hale credited the Municipality of Chatham-Kent staff for their work in securing $3.2 million in funding for the build under the Community Build for Capacity Program with the goal of expanding childcare spaces.


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