When Gordon Wesley picks up a paintbrush, he can’t help but think of his ancestors.
Sitting Eagle, also known as John Hunter, is Wesley’s great grandfather. In one of two new murals at the Canmore Civic Centre, the former Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda chief is proudly placed overlooking the Three Sisters in Canmore, or Chuwapchîchiyan Kudebi, as it is known in Stoney.
“It’s my way of honouring my people to put their image up there,” said Wesley.
The former chief, born in 1874, was celebrated for his devotion to traditional customs, ranching expertise, and leadership skills, but he was also renowned as an artist and craftsman, particularly for his teepee designing and painting.
Sitting Eagle’s involvement in the Calgary Stampede made him a recognizable symbol of the event. He was widely known for his participation in the event before he died in 1970.
To Wesley, Sitting Eagle is a symbol of the past that continues to hold a special place in the hearts and minds of many and is a figure that now serves as a watchful guardian.
Wesley’s great grandfather is depicted in several of his paintings, including some currently on display at Three Sisters Gallery.
Where much of Wesley’s work is inspired by the past, his second mural at the Civic Centre is an ode to what is to come.
His nephew, Garron Wesley, is featured wearing regalia in a painting of a grizzly bear set against a colourful Rocky Mountain backdrop at sunset.
Wesley wanted to honour his nephew in the painting as both he and his brother, Dwayne, are well-known on the powwow trail.
They also represent the future of Îyârhe Nakoda First Nation, he said. They are the next generation and he wants their future to be welcoming and fair.
It is not lost on Wesley that his two murals are taking up intentional space in the Civic Centre. In a town which used to not be so welcoming to Indigenous peoples, he believes the art and its location – where the Town is governed by council – represents progress.
“Over time, the relationship between Canmore and Morley – the communities – I notice that it’s getting better as time goes by,” said Wesley.
Wesley was selected for the project in an art call by the Town of Canmore, an opportunity which did not exist for his great grandfather, but that he hopes will continue and build for other Indigenous artists.
The murals, located inside the Civic Centre, will remain a permanent fixture there. They were unveiled to the public at an event Thursday (June 15).
By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jun 30, 2023