In an effort to improve the living environment of Indigenous offenders at Archambault Institution, and to make it more conducive to healing, the Aboriginal Initiatives team in the Quebec Region sought the services of Ms. Megan Whyte, an Indigenous artist and art therapist. During summer 2018, Ms. Whyte worked at the institution’s Indigenous Intervention Centre (medium security) to create a mural.
The work took eight days to complete. During the first phase of the project, the artist met with the offenders to learn about their values, their culture, and their stories. Ms. Whyte used this information to create a sketch that would become the mural.
Everything took place in the Indigenous Spirituality room, a gathering place where inmates participate in various spiritual and cultural activities such as teaching and sharing circles with Indigenous Elders, as well as cultural art courses. Ms. Whyte knew that the mural had to reflect the diversity of the Indigenous nations from which the inmates came. No details were left out: bears, deer, eagles, turtles, longhouses, tipis, igloos, dog sleds, sweat lodges, fires, and totems are just some of the significant symbols that are represented in the mural.
For the second phase of the project, the inmates were asked to reproduce the sketch on the wall using a paint sprayer. They selected and applied the colours themselves. As the project progressed, the inmates began to explore their creativity and developed more confidence in their artistic abilities. This project encouraged them to self-reflect and to realize that when we put our heart into our work and persevere, alone or as a team, we can achieve great things.
During the creation of the mural, Ms. Whyte guided and advised the budding artists, shading the shapes drawn by the group - a little magic touch that truly breathed life into the work. And over the course of this project, the inmates were able to feel an emotion that they had never been able to before: pride. Even today, they happily reflect on this creative experience.
Once it was completed, the inmates unveiled their work to their parole officers, correctional program officers, the institution’s management, and the Aboriginal Initiatives Division at Quebec Regional Headquarters. They were all very proud of their journey and talked about their personal contributions to the mural.
The feeling of pride is still felt to this day at the institution. Other projects of this kind are scheduled to take place in the near future at the Indigenous Intervention Centre.