Hundreds gathered in downtown Regina, the capital city of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, for the unveiling of a new public artwork on National Indigenous Peoples’ Day last Wednesday, June 21. Cree-Métis artist Geanna Dunbar and Inuvialuit-Gwich’in artist Brandy Jones designed “The Path to Reconciliation” (2023), a 300-foot-long and eight-foot-wide footpath mural on pavement rendered in the style of traditional First Nations beadwork. The piece featured over 2,600 painted circular “beads,” also referencing the significance of the circle as a broader Indigenous symbol rooted in healing, community gatherings, and mutual support without hierarchies.
The mural occupies a stretch of a downtown pedestrian-only city block at the F.W. Hills Mall on Scarth Street. Dunbar and Jones incorporated motifs such as flowers for their ubiquitous representation in every culture; bison bones to honor how First Nations peoples use every part of an animal for sustenance and survival and in acknowledgment of their near extinction due to colonial overhunting; and the colors of the aurora borealis that represent late ancestors looking down and offering guidance to those still on Earth. The path begins in front of late artist Joe Fafard’s buffalo sculpture, “oskana ka-asasteki” (1998), and is marked by a painting of a white buffalo, which signifies the sacred loop of life for several Indigenous cultures.
Jones told Hyperallergic that the broader path to reconciliation is “headed in a really good direction” as shown by the turnout of volunteers and the influx of questions from passersby. While the design took months of meetings to plan out, the actual painting and sealing process was completed between June 1 and June 19 with the help of approximately 200 volunteers.
“Reconciliation begins with starting these conversations and improving education around these subjects,” Jones said, reflecting on her community work on top of this project. “There’s so much interest in wanting to learn more and help out. Every conversation I had was impactful in a different way.”
Dunbar and Jones sought guidance and knowledge from Muscowpetung First Nation Elder and residential school survivor Brenda Dubois as well as Indigenous cultural art advisor Audrey Dreaver for this endeavor.
“Dubois told us a very powerful story about how river water and ocean water pass through obstacles to meet each other, and that really resonated with us so we made blue background beads to represent the journey of water along the path,” Dunbar noted. Jones mentioned that Dubois had a grounding presence that helped the artists tone down their perfectionistic tendencies for this project and that Dreaver was a great resource for historical knowledge about the ubiquity of beadwork as a post-colonial impact on First Nations cultures across North America.
The artists joined forces on this project through the Creative City Centre (CCC), an artist-run community space in Regina that provides employment opportunities and professional development assistance to independent creative workers, and the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District.
“It was interesting to see a bunch of people coming together from different places, financial classes, cities, and so on really endure the harsh weather of an extreme heat wave for this,” Dunbar said of the public turnout. “We were all uncomfortable, and that also represents the path of reconciliation — to feel what it’s like to be uncomfortable in situations and work together as a team.” She stated that reconciliation for non-Indigenous people to foster and maintain respectful relationships with First Nations people means knowing where your money is going, and “putting in the work and creating jobs.”
“You can wear an orange shirt for Every Child Matters Day (September 30), or you can come out on Indigenous Peoples’ Day (June 21), but where did you get your orange shirt?” Dunbar asked. “Did you buy your shirt at Walmart, or did you purchase it from an Indigenous artist? Have you ever spent time in areas with a large Indigenous population and talked to the homeowners out there? Show up for the community in tangible ways, and not just on social media.”
The footpath mural has been coated with a weatherproof sealant to ensure its permanent presence on Scarth Street.