'Every Child Matters': Massive mural on Vancouver street honours Indigenous children

Mural covers city street

"Every child matters."

A bright orange mural stretching down a full block of Vancouver's Commercial Drive honours the lives of children who were sent to residential schools across Canada.

For Haida artist Tamara Bell, painting the mural offered a profound opportunity for healing.

The goal was to get 17 people to paint the 17 letters on the black asphalt. However, Bell told Vancouver Is Awesome that roughly 50 people helped with the project throughout the day.

"There were Indigenous people from a homeless centre, residential school survivors, allies, and artists," she explained. "It was really a meeting of the minds when it came to the actual physical work."

The group got started on July 1 at 4 a.m. and finished by 2 p.m.

"It was beautiful."

Bell said the group chose Commercial Drive because it has a large Indigenous population. When the mural was complete, some Indigenous people told her that they were so glad to see it done. "We really needed this," she said. "It was beautiful."

Two residential school survivors helped paint the murals and were "really struggling with the trauma," explained Bell. "They put the T-shirts on; they started painting. And I would check in with the two of them all the time and I asked them, 'How does it feel,' and both of them said, 'We needed this so badly because we had to move from trauma."

As an artist, Bell said she has always found art therapeutic: "Art heals."

But the experience she had creating the mural was new for Bell.

"I've experienced so much racism," she said. "So it was really interesting how these very young, enthusiastic, political, people were so down to help; it was moving.

"People have jumped on board enthusiastically and with true hearts. At a moment I actually cried."

"How we come together or fall apart is going to be documented on the soul of mankind."

Experts have for years estimated the number of children who died at residential schools to be in the thousands. The Nation Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has documented at least 4,117 deaths of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children.

"We need Indigenous people — especially as we enter into a global crisis and environmental crisis — we really need Indigenous people because they have wisdom, Indigenous wisdom about the environment," explained Bell.

"How we come together or fall apart is going to be documented on the soul of mankind," she said. "Because you either reconcile with the past, or you build upon the legacy of what has continued."

While she said she has experienced a tremendous amount of racism, Bell feels optimistic for the future. "I watched the news this morning and I cried because I saw all these people supporting Indigenous people that have never done it before.

"And I know we're making a new world."

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