'It's a very important piece': Indigenous-themed mural at library to be used for 'storytime'

Megan Pickersgill tourism manager of Railway City Tourism, Nancy Deleary, artist, Heather Robinson, CEO St. Thomas Public Library. (Brent Lale/CTV London)

It's a mural designed to get people talking.

The work titled 'All Are My Relatives' by Indigenous artist Nancy Deleary is now complete on the west-side of the St. Thomas Public Library in St. Thomas, Ont.

"Basically it's a storytelling theme, which is based on the tradition of Anishinaabe people or North American people," says Deleary, who has painted a number of murals at Chippewa of the Thames First Nation where she is a cultural coordinator.

"Our history and identity was not so much written down, but it was orally transmitted through the generations for thousands of years. We all know how the residential school system disrupted that that way of living and that oral transmission of knowledge and identity was stopped."

Working from the end of May to September this year , Deleary spent all summer in the heat working on this massive, stunning piece of art with a story-telling theme.

"It's an Indigenous elder speaking," says Deleary.

'He's got his talking stick, and you have listeners, people around the fire, listening in, and engaging with, with the storyteller."

Stories that she hopes can now be brought to life, and passed on. Stories like the history behind Orange T-Shirt Day.

"Which is a story of a young girl who was taken to residential school and having her beautiful shirt taken away from her," says Deleary.

"Our responsibility is not to forget our elders, who were residential school survivors. They adamantly told us never to forget because in the future no other child should go through what they went through."

The library's CEO feels it's the perfect theme for their garden.

"This is often where we have story time in the nicer weather months, so it really just opens up opportunities to talk about a culture that is right in our own backyard, but often neglected," says Heather Robinson, CEO of the St. Thomas Library.

"This enhances the space and it beckons people to come and sit with the bear, and sit with the symbolism of the piece."

The mural, which covers the west-side of the library is part of the Track to the Future mural project which is funded through the Estate of Donna Vera Evans Bushell.

"Nancy's done such a good job of creating a striking design that really pulls you in," says Megan Pickersgill, tourism manager of Railway City Tourism.

"Having been not only painted by an Indigenous artist, but representing Indigenous storytelling, themes and symbols, it's just it's filled with that heritage. It's a chance for us to share that story as part of the sort of tapestry that we see in the public art going up around our community. She's even pulled in some of the local geography with the street names that we have in the area and so it's really a special piece".

The street name on the west of the library is Mondamin which also happens to be the Ojibwa word for corn. In Anishinabe tradition, Mandaamin or Mondamin is the spirit of the corn.

When Deleary noticed the name of the street where she was working, she started a deep-dive into whether the street had any reference to Europe. When she found nothing, she 'decided that it must mean our name for corn.'

It lead to emphasizing this mural with a row of Indian corn across the mural.

Deleary then spoke about Canada's decision to mark the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

The day honours the lost children and Survivors of residential schools, their families and communities. Public commemoration of the tragic and painful history and ongoing impacts of residential schools is a vital component of the reconciliation process.

"I'm so fortunate to live in this time where I get to see that happen," says Deleary.

"I'm 60 years old and I've seen a lot of negativity towards our people growing up and experiencing life in London, mainly because that's where we were bused to go to school".

She hopes this mural can spark more conversation.

"Learning more about who we are as the Indigenous people of this land, our ways, and our perspective on the land," says Deleary.

She wanted to finish the conversation with a famous quote from Chief Dan George of Vancouver. George was the leader of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation as well as an actor, musician, poet and author.

"We have taken so much from your culture, I wish you had taken something from ours," says Deleary.

It's a quote she hopes people will keep in mind when they stop or sit in front of her work and think about the meaning behind 'All Are My Relatives'.