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Large-scale Indigenous art piece unveiled at Bluewater Health

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Journal staff

Bluewater Health marked its commitment to truth and reconciliation this week with the unveiling of a large-scale piece of Indigenous artwork at the hospital.

Local artist John Williams of Aamjiwnaang First Nation worked with Bluewater Health’s Indigenous Navigation Services team worked with to commission the statement piece.

“For so long, our people were unable to express their stories, culture, and knowledge through our language, song, or art,” said Williams. “Seeing our artwork displayed largely in the institutions we receive care in – where in the past, we have experienced racism and cultural oppression – demonstrates the hospital’s commitment to Indigenous culture, reconciliation and healing, as well as mutual respect.”

Aamjiwnaang artist, John Williams, stands with Indigenous community members and children, Bluewater Health’s Indigenous Navigations Services team, and Bluewater Health Executive Members to unveil the momentous piece. (Bluewater Health photo)

The project was funded by a $10,000 Government of Canada, Canadian Heritage Funding grant – through the government’s 2023 Commemorating the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation program.

Centrally-located in the Sarnia hospital’s main floor atrium, the new artwork depicts Indigenous culture, reconciliation, and healing.

At the centre of the piece sits a drummer in mid-ceremony.

“The thunderbird embodies power, protection, and strength in Indigenous culture,” a news release noted.

Williams incorporated Indigenous children in its wings – depicting the Indigenous children and families impacted by residential schools. Dragon flies can be found throughout, representing the only living thing of this earth that can travel between the physical world and the spirit world.

“Bluewater Health is committed to improving Indigenous health outcomes and experiences, and strengthening relationships with Indigenous communities,” says Paula Reaume-Zimmer, Bluewater Health’s President & CEO. “John’s artwork is an impactful, daily reminder – for all of us – of what Indigenous peoples endured, and continue to endure, as a result of residential schools.”

The mural was unveiled at Bluewater Health’s recognition event to mark Orange Shirt Day and the hospital’s commitment to truth and reconciliation.

The mural was unveiled at Bluewater Health’s recognition event to mark Orange Shirt Day and the hospital’s commitment to truth and reconciliation. (Bluewater Health photo)

Some 200 staff, patients, visitors, and Indigenous community partners were in attendance. Participants heard the impacts of residential schools first-hand from local Elder and Survivor, Lila Bruyere.

The unveiling was assisted by children from Aamjiwnaang – and a traditional smudge ceremony was led by the Indigenous Navigation Services team.

A replica of the new Indigenous artwork will be installed in the Petrolia emergency department in the coming weeks.

In 2021, Bluewater Health unveiled its Truth & Reconciliation commitment and permanent plaques were installed across the hospital in both Sarnia and Petrolia.

In early 2022, Bluewater Health began working with local Elders and Healers to offer traditional healing services to Indigenous patients and families.

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