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Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Behind the Mask #60sScoop

 

The Behind The Mask art project has left a lasting impact on those participating on the project, helping them in their mental health journeys. (Katie Green photo)

Unmasking mental health liberates Vernon Indigenous woman

Taking a deeper look at controversial Behind the Mask mural project

As a victim of the ’60s Scoop Freesia has worn many masks throughout her life.

Identity theft, sexual abuse, drug addiction, sex worker.

Now sober and living her best life, the Vernon Indigenous woman has been liberated through a recent art project she was fortunate to take part in.

The 50-year-old Cree native is one of 11 people Behind The Mask – an art installation focused on mental health.

“I felt enlightened by the mask, trying to be a better person where I fit in society as somebody who is healing,” Freesia said. “It was like putting on my new mask. The mask is my higher self.

“It’s nice to know all those other masks, survival tactics, are off.”

Tired of hiding behind unhealthy masks, Freesia said the project helped her express herself.

“It represents forgiveness of those who hurt me, including me.”

And she enjoyed being able to create with others, including Sarah Lillemo, harm reduction coordinator at the Cammy LaFleur Street Clinic.

“I feel like you really connected with the project,” Lillemo told Freesia, who has been sober since Sept 27, 2020.

Lillemo gathered the participants for the art project, led by Calgary artist Katie Green. She too was able to make a mask and have her photograph taken wearing it.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as excited about the project as the participants. The approved installation of these photographs blown up on the sides of buildings has stirred deep feelings among many area residents, calling the art ‘scary.’

“There’s nothing scary about it,” said Freesia.

The public backlash has hurt the participants and those involved. Freesia even thought that perhaps it was racially motivated due to her status.

Lillemo says those who aren’t comfortable with the art, “feel more comfortable hiding behind their keyboard and saying hateful things.”

There are others who are in full support of the project, and in the end, the goal of the art to spark a conversation around mental health has been reached.

The 60s Scoop refers to the large-scale removal of Indigenous children from their homes, communities and families and their subsequent adoption into predominantly non-Indigenous, middle-class families across the United States and Canada. This experience left many adoptees with a lost sense of cultural identity.

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Detailed discussion of the Bering Strait theory and other scientific theories about the population of the modern-day Americas is beyond the scope of this essay. However, it should be noted that Indian people have expressed suspicion that DNA analysis is a tool that scientists will use to support theories about the origins of tribal people that contradict tribal oral histories and origin stories. Perhaps more important,the alternative origin stories of scientists are seen as intending to weaken tribal land and other legal claims (and even diminish a history of colonialism?) that are supported in U.S. federal and tribal law. As genetic evidence has already been used to resolve land conflicts in Asian and Eastern European countries, this is not an unfounded fear.

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