Honouring the children who never returned home, and survivors of residential schools, is a way to help people heal, in the eyes of Peace River artist Judy Ducharme.
Her breathtaking artistry has graced the crosswalk near the Treaty 8 Memorial at Riverfront Park. She has graciously painted a crosswalk the last two years to help family, friends, and people in the community in their healing process.
“The crosswalks are not so much in memory as they are for healing,” explains Ducharme.
“As a daughter of a residential school survivor, I know the ripple effect is felt for generations. We never want to forget the children we have lost, and we know the survivors live in the memory daily and for all of this, I feel it is extremely important we are all honoured and a small way for me to do this is through my art,” she adds.
Ducharme says while she was gathering supplies to create her artwork this year, she and her supporters could not remember the formula for the orange paint she used last year. She went to pick up an orange paint and selected number 2015-30, the significance floored her and left her in tears. She explains 215 children were found in Kamloops and 30 is the day in September for National Truth and Reconciliation.
This year’s final design came to Ducharme as she was preparing to lay the first layers of paint on the pavement.
“As an artist, I, most times, do not have a plan, or stencil when it comes to creating art but Sunday morning, I had a couple ideas I was torn between,” says Ducharme.
“One of the ladies at the site suggested I walk among Mother Earth barefoot, and it would come to me. I thought about how strangers can come together, support one another and it made me think about how in some way we all are connected, so ‘We are all Connected’ was the choice,” she adds.
Ducharme’s design includes the Métis flower, eagle feather, and Inukshuk.
“I chose the Métis flower to represent Métis people,” says Ducharme, adding that the flower is one of her beadwork tattoos her great grandmother and grandmother used when making clothing, gloves, or anything asked of them.
“I chose the eagle feather to represent First Nations people because it is such a symbol within our culture for wisdom and strength.
“I chose the Inukshuk for the Inuit people as it represents guiding travellers, warning of danger, assisting hunters, and marking places of reverence.
“I connected all three symbols with a ribbon of spirit.”
Ducharme hopes the annual art she creates will help have a positive impact on the community and the residents who travel the streets each day.
“I believe it encourages conversation so anyone from any walk of life will see the painting and ask the questions,” she says.
“This dark part of Canadian history is still not well-known and having a piece so bright and shared by many, I believe that it may help others find a voice to ask questions and learn what it all means.”
Ducharme worked tirelessly to ensure her crosswalk was completed before Orange Shirt Day on Sept. 30, a Canadian statutory holiday to recognize the legacy of the Canadian Indian Residential School System. Most notably, this day is a day to remember all children who suffered trauma in residential schools, to honour the children left behind and the people who are still healing.
“Each Indigenous person is on their own journey as to who they are,” she says. “I pray it provides a place for people to sit, heal, cry, laugh, visit or anything they need. I pray they ask to have a piece like this in each of their communities, homes, and parks.”
She says Truth and Reconciliation means to honour the past, heal the present, and celebrate the future.
Ducharme hopes people will take the time to learn about the history, be present in the conservation and teachings, ask questions, sit with Elders and survivors, and have an open heart to information that they will hear.
She adds the most important thing to know is that it is OK for people to ask questions.
“There are a number of reliable sources,” Ducharme says of places to gather information. “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a great place to start, the Orange Shirt Society, and – locally – the Peace River Aboriginal Interagency Committee and Wendy Goulet are a couple of my personal favourites.”
Ducharme says she was joined in her painting journey this year by Peace River Aboriginal Interagency’s Advocate for Indigenous Services Wendy Goulet. She says Goulet is a great symbol of strength, resiliency, and beauty for this community as well as those surrounding us.
She was also joined by Elder Pricilla, who provided the smudge and prayer for the volunteers and the site. Ducharme says Elder Pricilla empowers her and is a symbol of history, resiliency, and strength.
“I was also joined by RCMP members Michelle (off duty) and Julie,” she says. “They work primarily with Indigenous communities, and they were a symbol that relationships historically as negative as that of the RCMP and Indigenous communities can still come together and work on a common goal.”
Also on hand was Lubicon Cree Nation Councillor Tracy Laboucan-Carter, who symbolizes Indigenous women in leadership and the ability to be accomplished through hard work.
“Community members Pearl and Penny also came to help and are First Nations women who are a symbol of strength,” says Ducharme.
“Peace River Councillor Marc Boychuk spent the day with us and provided lunch, water, photography and symbolized local municipal authority that works within the community. My friend, Josh, also provided water and shade for me. He is a non-Indigenous male working within the legal system that is predominantly Indigenous, and he symbolizes a need to learn and that the future can change.”
Ducharme would like to say a special thank you to Modern Paint and Décor for donating all the supplies for the crosswalk, LaPrairie Works Inc. for providing barricades and the site prep, and an anonymous donator who gave the glass beads for the reflection.
Ducharme says she hopes people take the time this Truth and Reconciliation Day to learn more about the history of our country and to reflect on what has been done and how we can all heal from the aftermath.
By Emily Plihal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Aug 23, 2023