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Aamjiwnaang artist unveils ‘Ojibwe Spirit’ mural at Shell refinery

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Tara Jeffrey

John Williams says he hopes his large-scale artwork unveiled this week at Shell’s Corunna refinery will inspire residents to find their way home.

Traditional dancers Debbie Plain, Kaitlyn Douglas and Cyrus Sinopole were on hand for the unveiling of the “Ojibwe Spirit” mural at Shell Corunna. (Tara Jeffrey photo)

“Not everybody knows their culture — where they come from,” said the Aamjiwnaang artist.
“Maybe this will be a beacon of light somewhere to somebody.

“When they drive by and look up… they can come back to find themselves.”

Williams was on hand Friday for the official unveiling at Shell, where tank no. 96 features his piece, “Ojibwe Spirit” — a mural made of panels mirroring his original painting, completed this summer.

With the help of local photographer Richard Beland, the mural was installed piece-by-piece, like a puzzle, he explained.

“It pushed the limits of everything I know how to do in photography,” said Beland, who used a specialized camera to photograph the painting in sections before reproducing it on the tank. “I wanted to make sure that we stayed true to John’s detail.

“It’s one of the more important things I’ve ever done.”

The concept, first conceived by Shell process team lead, Barry Antoine, was three years in the making.

Shell’s Barry Antoine speaks before the unveiling of a large-scale mural by Aamjiwnaang artist John Williams, at the Corunna refinery.

“It was just an idea — I thought, these tanks are so bland and white,” said Antoine, who is also the Indigenous Lead for Shell Canada. “Why not put some artwork on them?”

The project was a personal one for Antoine, who called it the ‘proudest moment’ of his 32-year career.

“I’ve lost my past…my father was among those ‘scooped,’” Antoine said of the time known as the ‘sixties scoop,’ the large-scale removal or “scooping” of Indigenous children from their homes and communities into non-indigenous homes, stripping many of their cultural identity.

“I spent some time on the reservations between Sarnia, Walpole Island, Kettle and Stony Point, and my home Oneida… so I’ve been trying to find myself.

“This has allowed me to get back to my heritage.”


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