I, Justine "Tini" Stilborn have been honoured by Transit Saskatoon and the City of Saskatoon to be given the chance to unveil a bus shelter I designed. The designed was inspired by the stories the The Survivors/Elders Called to Action Group (now known as Saskatoon Survivors Circle), a group of Residential School Survivors and Indigenous elders and old people living and working in Saskatoon. This art piece is a tribute to the cultural genocide experienced by the indigenous peoples. Designed as a narrative tool it seeks to establish a connection with our community by telling the stories of Residential School Survivor experiences and truths. The brief asked for a piece that was honest, the challenge as an artist designed a piece for public artist was to not sugar coat the truth but to create something that doesn't re-traumatize or trigger anyone.
The storytelling begins with the 60s scoop depicting young indigenous children taken from their homes and families. The next panel shows indigenous children’s involuntary assimilation into Euro-Western culture depicted by the cutting of the hair. These horrors are continued on to Family Protection Services disproportionately removing indigenous children from their homes in more contemporary times, bridged by the shoes that represent the number of children murdered. Lastly, the final panel is designed to depict a sense of freedom established by indigenous people returning to their cultural practices and reconnecting with their ancestors.
An added feature was the ceiling of the bus shelter depicting the dawn of a new day where we can celebrate our babies again without fear of having them be taken away. There are little faces in the clouds, drawn from the ultrasounds of my two daughters, as my goal is to reconnect them to their ancestry and show them to challenge the notion of shame that our society prescribes to being born indigenous.
I am interested in notions of identity in my artistic practice. I chose to participate in this project to address the stigma of shame that’s been cultivated around being indigenous. I felt shame was projected on me as a child. Since becoming a mother and doing my own shadow work I’ve felt the need to reconnect with the parts of myself I’ve denied, including my indigenous ancestry. My great grandmother was born in a tipi and being a mother myself, I want to not just teach but demonstrate to my daughters that there is a rich indigenous culture to be proud of. I want this bus shelter to serve as my reconnection to my ancestors but also allow residential school survivors across Canada an opportunity to reconnection to their inner child as well by no longer denying their trauma and allowing for a sense of healing. I hope this project will act as a learning tool for the community and a beacon of truth. The strength of the steel is a testament to the strength of the indigenous people and there’s undeniable objectivity around the horrific past that I hope drives change. I want to thank Saskatoon Transit for allowing me the opportunity to work with the Saskatoon Survivors Circle and thank the Survivors for trusting me to tell their stories.
I will forever be grateful for being given a chance to make my mark and chase my childhood dreams of being an artist when so many of our people were robbed of theirs. – Justine “Tini” Stilborn