Jan. 25, 2019

Wall art creates brave space for Indigenous nursing students

Former office in Professional Faculties revitalized thanks to Indigenous artist

Author

Faculty of Nursing Staff

Artist Kalum Teke Dan stands beside his recently-completed mural.

Artist Kalum Teke Dan stands beside his recently-completed mural.

Faculty of Nursing

It’s called The Gathering Space, meant to be a place for Indigenous nursing students to study, regroup, and connect, and its corner location on the lower level of the Professional Faculties Building is unassuming. But last week, it got a serious upgrade: a mural, painted by Blackfoot artist Kalum Teke Dan, that, according to Heather Bensler, co-director of Indigenous initiatives in the Faculty of Nursing, will inspire not only the Indigenous community, but anyone who ventures into the space.

“I like the idea of a brave space, a space where students and faculty are encouraged to risk, to connect and to have meaningful conversations,” says Bensler. “It's meant to be a safe space for our Indigenous students, where they can smudge, connect with an elder, find resources, and it’s also a space for our growing team of nursing students interested in Indigenous Initiatives as they grow in their role in ‘reconcili-action’ and as allies.”

Nursing instructor Heather Bensler stands with artist Kalum Teke Dan and his assistant Jamie Carlson before the mural was painted.

Nursing instructor Heather Bensler stands with artist Kalum Teke Dan and his assistant Jamie Carlson

Faculty of Nursing

The room has been re-imagined from office space, and engaging Teke Dan to paint his Sunset Song on the back wall was just good timing, says Bensler.

“Monica Friesen, a nursing clinical instructor, led a group of eight nursing students in the fall term exploring the concept of an Indigenous sense of place and how we can create a brave space to support Indigenous students and allies. The group attended the opening of the Central Library where Indigenous artists, including Kalum, shared their work. Kalum agreed to paint a mural through that relationship.”

After projecting the image of his painting, Sunset Song, on the wall and tracing it, Teke Dan begins to paint the vibrant colours.

After projecting the image, Sunset Song, on the wall and tracing it, Teke Dan begins to paint.

Faculty of Nursing

“Sunset Song is an image of a man singing old prayers and stories of our culture,” explains Teke Dan, who recognized early on in his life that creating art was all he cared about doing. “My family exerted a strong and early influence on me which led me to an appreciation of Indigenous culture, teaching and artistic tradition. My grandparents were both very talented artists who encouraged me to seek my own path; I painted this because I have memories of my grandfather waking up early in the morning, drumming and singing old songs. The warriors (on the right) represent the Treaty 7 braves.”

Many of Teke Dan’s paintings are based on individuals from his life who have exhibited inner strength or demonstrated an overall sense of pride in themselves, their culture and those they hold dear, characteristics Bensler hopes the students who share the room will develop.

Teke Dan first completes the head of the warrior.

Teke Dan first completes the head of the warrior.

Faculty of Nursing

“I met a young LPN student from a local First Nations community who said she moved back to her community to reconnect with her culture because she felt so disconnected during her schooling,” Bensler says. “She said she wished she could have had a place like The Gathering Space during her schooling career. UCalgary’s Native Centre is so far away from our building and our students get so busy, we wanted to have a brave area closer to where our students are located so that they can find support, encouragement and connection.”

ii’ taa’poh’to’p, the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy, is a commitment to deep evolutionary transformation by reimagining ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being. Walking parallel paths together, ‘in a good way,’ UCalgary will move towards genuine reconciliation and Indigenization.