"Sufferings at Indian Residential Schools" is powerful exhibition that looks at one of the darkest chapters of Canadian history through the eyes and imagination of a remarkable young citizen of Fort McMurray. Austan was inspired by three elders who shared their residential school memories with his classroom. He took their oral history and combined it with online research to create a fictional story, supported by a series of illustrative paintings, to bring the viewer closer to the harsh realities of residential schools.
My heart was in my throat as I went around the Meichos Gallery looking at the paintings and reading the story. It is unfathomable to understand what the government and churches of the time were thinking when they executed this forced assimilation. This exhibition is a great platform for dialogue and learning. As Canadians, we need to better understand the hows and whys of this cultural policy and the damage it has wrought on generations of Aboriginal families.
Austan was five years old when he first participated in The Amazing Art Race at interPLAY with his entire family. He has continued to pursue his love of art and was marvellously eloquent in his remarks to a gallery full of friends and fans. I'm looking forward to having this amazing fellow on my IMPACT radio show on November 1st. He will be my youngest guest, though I get the sense that he is an old soul.
This is a stunning artistic achievement, an exhibition that required a tremendous effort, remarkable empathy and heart. Please take a half hour out of your day in the next few weeks to go and view it. This is a young artist who is intent to be a force for good in the world. He inspired us all today and he will likely inspire you.