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A.B. Ellis students paint Indigenous mural with local artist Michael Cywink

Press Release

March 24, 2023

The foyer at A.B. Ellis Public School is now home to a striking 40-foot long 10-panel Indigenous mural. Approximately 47 students from Grades 4 to 8 helped paint the mural under the direction of local Indigenous artist Michael “Cy” Cywink and his apprentice Gerry Ranger of the Huron Wyandot.

Each panel mirrors one of the Seven Grandfather Teachings of Bravery – Aakidewin, Honesty – Gwekwaadziwin, Humility – Dbaadendiziwin, Love – Zaagidwin, Respect – Mnaadendomowin, Truth – Debwewin and Wisdom – Nbwaakaawin, with three additional panels for Community – Kwiinwin, Resilience – Gshki-eziwin and Equity – Bezhgonong, the values adopted by Rainbow District School Board in its Strategic Directions.

The mural – suitably themed “The Values in Life” – took some 50 hours over a two-week period to complete. Student participants received a certificate of appreciation for their contribution.

The idea for the mural began with Principal Kendra Mihell who was looking to create a welcoming space in the school’s main entrance.

“We wanted a mural created by students to showcase the Board’s new values, which are integral to our school community and character education,” said Principal Mihell. “I reached out to Board staff in Indigenous Education who were happy to support the initiative. They arranged for Michael Cywink to lead the venture.”

Since 2009, Michael Cywink, an Odawa Anishinabe registered with the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island, has shared his teachings with thousands of students across Ontario. Also a curator and published author, Michael crafts murals that depict Clans, Dodems – spirit helpers, and the Seven Grandfather Teachings – Niizhwaaswi G’chi Mishoomsinaanik Kinoomadwinan.

“Art is therapy for my living spirit – a gift of historical recovery,” said Michael Cywink. “It’s fulfilling for me as an Indigenous Elder and artist to share what I have learned with youth.”

Grade 6 student Eden Lester truly enjoyed the opportunity to learn alongside a renowned artist. “I knew the project involved healing and art so I had to sign up,” she said. “And, I’m sure glad that I did.”

Throughout the project, Michael Cywink often referenced the Seven Grandfather Teachings and encouraged students to feel the colours – a process he deems a therapeutic way to engage in Reconciliation and heal with colour and culture.

“My hope is that the mural will bring an understanding of Truth,” said Michael Cywink. “And that it leaves students with a greater sense of how each value can help them in learning and in life.”

See the completed mural here: bit.ly/abellismural

Grade 6 student Keely Quinn reflected on her experience, noting a few things she discovered about herself. “I learned some Ojibwe,” she said. “I also realized I really like art!”

Michael Cywink expressed pride and gratitude for students and his apprentice. “I look for participation, not perfection, and teach that we are all equal in the circle with everybody making history at A.B. Ellis Public School in Espanola.”

“Miigwech to Michael Cywink and Gerry Ranger for helping our students develop a deeper understanding of traditional Indigenous practices and teachings through art,” said Principal Kendra Mihell. “The result is a beautiful, meaningful and colourful masterpiece that will be enjoyed for many years to come.”

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Media Contact:

Kendra Mihell, Principal, A.B. Ellis Public School,
Rainbow District School Board, 705-869-1650

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