A large mural of the Ojibwe Algonquin people’s creation story was unveiled at Toronto’s Roncesvalles United in March. Created by the renowned Indigenous artist Philip Cote, the colourful painting fills the north alcove. It completely surrounds a stained glass window depicting various biblical themes.
In 2020, Cote was invited by Rev. Anne Hines of Roncesvalles United to paint “anywhere he chose and anything he chose.”
In an artist statement, Cote says, “The mural is a visual story of our beginning. It’s the first of its kind in a church. This is how the narrative is going to change. Our story needs to be inside all institutions and across the country.”
Hines couldn’t agree more. “What is evolving is changing the narrative of this space, from fortress walls and big cathedral church and patriarchy, to the roots of church, which is service to community. And love that looks like everything.”
Roncesvalles United’s journey toward this mural began with congregation member Linda Pleet. “History wasn’t taught with Indigenous people included, or if they were included, it wasn’t a true picture of what was going on. I just wanted to learn.”
Her curiosity led to the formation of the congregation’s Indigenous relations group in May 2018, and it held several information sessions during worship. The pandemic put the plans for the mural on hold. Cote started painting the walls last October.
Cote has placed Turtle Island, on whose back the whole universe rests, underneath the stained glass window’s Christian images. The painting, in vibrant colours, has a kinetic energy. There is constant movement as the story of creation, from Grandmother Moon and Grandfather Sun to the first family, unfolds.
“It’s a beautiful melding,” says Hines. “There’s such an open-hearted graciousness in that. This has freed me to be able to see these sacred stories with our sacred stories, and they are equally meaningful.”
Other murals by Cote can be seen around Toronto, including on Roncesvalles Avenue.
Andrew Faiz is a writer and editor. He lives in Toronto. This story first appeared in Broadview’s April/May 2022 issue.
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