Indigenous depictions of an eagle, a hummingbird, and a wolf now grace the outside of Don Christian Elementary after a mural was recently unveiled at the school.
Kwantlen First Nation artist Brandon Gabriel painted the mural and he also cut the ribbon on the project at a celebration Feb. 28.
“For an artist, for your work to be honoured when something like this is unveiled and the ribbon is unfurled and scissors are brought out and you get to cut a ribbon, that’s everything,” said Gabriel. “That is one of the biggest honours an artist can have in their career. It’s very moving, it’s very touching, it’s received well to me and my family. Thank you.”
The mural features Indigenous depictions of an eagle, a hummingbird and a wolf. The animals in the mural symbolize respect (eagle), resiliency (hummingbird), and responsibility (wolf).
“The artwork references the Indigenous story of a hummingbird that put out a large fire by dousing it with water, drop by drop, inspiring other creatures to pitch in until the blaze was put out,” according to a press release from Surrey Schools.
Principal John Morrison said he got the idea for a new mural several years ago when an old mural on the outside of the building was deteriorating.
“It was from the early ’90s and, in my perspective, it didn’t really speak to the world of education that we have today,” Morrison said. “In light of everything that was going with recent social justice movements, we wanted to have something that was a bit more current.”
Morrison said he didn’t remember seeing much Indigenous artwork around Cloverdale and he thought a mural that recognized “the Indigenous history of the area, while also acknowledging Indigenous staff and students,” would be great for the school.
“I had heard about (Gabriel) and seen some of his work on the other sites in the city and thought it’d be wonderful if he would do a mural for us.”
Gabriel wanted kids at the school to be part of the project. He asked them for their ideas on what the mural should incorporate. So the kids settled on three themes: responsibility, respect and resiliency.
That’s when Gabriel came up with the idea to use the story of the hummingbird, something he thought tied in nicely with the chosen themes.
Gabriel ended up painting the mural on five wooden panels and shared the experience with kids from the school.
“It’s a story that the kids really grabbed onto,” added Morrison. “On Mondays, the kids would come and (Gabriel) would lead them through the process of the mural and his art and how he paints.”
Morrison said the mural looks “amazing” and he noted it helped bring the school community together.
“We’re a really tight community, and during these challenging times with the pandemic, it’s special in a positive way,” Morrison said. “I think we’ve all learned a lot and I hope the children will remember the mural and it’ll be a source of connection to their school and community.”
The vibrant mural can be seen on the side of the school from 184th Street.