by John Copley
(ANNews) – There’s a new face in the capital city and it’s called “Water is Life.” It’s bright, bold and beautiful and tells many stories but the message it really delivers is both simple and important: start protecting the environment we live in and be especially concerned about our water supply. That’s the message being delivered by the new and brightly coloured community-driven mural that was painted on the large east-facing wall of the iHuman Youth Society, located in Edmonton’s inner city (9635-102A Ave).
“The project took place on the September 8-10 weekend,” explained iHuman Authenticity Director Keith Callihoo, who along with renowned Canadian artist and project facilitator, Isaac Murdoch, and dozens of local supporters spent the weekend creating a cultural mosaic designed to bring awareness to Edmontonians about the importance of water in our everyday lives.
“During the weekend event about 300 people joined us at the wall; more than 50 added their unique artistic touch to the mural. The participation we saw from local youth was especially rewarding. They really had fun telling their stories and adding their artwork to the mural,” noted Callihoo. “The mural was created as an inspiration and a learning tool that promotes the protection of water, a commodity that every living creature on earth needs to survive.”
The project, an initiative inspired by Murdoch and acclaimed artist and activist Christi Belcourt, was designed to help the two artists get their message out to the public. That message, noted Murdoch “is simply to create awareness that water is important to us all and as such we are encouraging every Canadian to stand up and do something positive for the environment. If we can find the strength and resolve to work together for the betterment of the planet, then we have taken a step forward in helping to ensure that humankind will be able to survive well into the future. You cannot overstate the importance of a healthy environment and that begins by protecting our water. To emphasize that importance, we became involved in creating two murals on the same weekend, one in Edmonton and the other in Ottawa.”
Callihoo lauded the efforts of community members who came out to help paint the new mural and credited local Elders for coming out to tell their stories and add their images.
“One Dene Elder participated in story-telling and then added syllabics to the mural,” he explained. “If you come by and see the wall you’ll note that the mural includes such things as a woodpecker, a symbol of strength and humility; a white buffalo to bring awareness to the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women and a beaver for resilience and creativity.”
There’s also a Water Walker, a Thunderbird Woman, a sturgeon and a large and radiant rainbow erupting from the inside of a copper kettle, various plants, bright red strawberries, bubbles with Indigenous words printed inside and colourful hearts created by children participating in the weekend project.
“There is a growing movement around the world when it comes to protecting our environment and in particular, the world’s water resources,” noted Murdoch. “This is just a small part of that movement but I’d like to encourage all of your readers and every person who understands what we are trying to accomplish to get out and do something positive for the environment. That can be something as simple as walking in the woods, hosting a ceremony, getting together with others for a water walk – even organizing another mural. If we unite and work together, we can accomplish almost anything and there is nothing on this earth that is more important that the air we breathe and the water we drink.”
iHuman’s reputation speaks for itself; they’ve won many different awards over the past two decades for their work with inner city youth. Founded in 1997, the iHuman Youth Society is a non-profit organization that engages Edmonton’s vulnerable and otherwise street involved youth. The organization fosters personal development and reconnection to the community via social support, engagement and outreach programs involving crisis intervention, arts mentorship and life skills development.
“When we reached out to our contacts in Edmonton,” explained Murdoch, “the iHuman name kept coming up. Christi and I wanted to do a mural in Edmonton’s capital to twin-up with the one we’d organized in the nation’s capital and were looking for a suitable place to create the piece. It couldn’t have turned out any better. The folks at iHuman are an awesome bunch and they’ve been very supportive from the outset; we’ve made a lot of new friends in the process. The participation in the mural was phenomenal; we had a lot of different cultures come out and help us and that’s just more proof that the world needs people to step up and get the word out. If we don’t start planning for a healthier environment, our time on this planet is limited.”
iHuman’s mission, explained Executive Director Catherine Broomfield in an earlier interview, “is to reconnect youth into the community by developing skills, self-esteem and a sense of worth and ability through caring, creative and authentic programming.”
The organization engages with youth (aged 12-24) from every demographic and socio-economic group throughout the Edmonton region. The majority of the youth they work with are Aboriginal youth, many of whom are facing issues such as poverty, homelessness, addictions, mental health issues and gang affiliation.
Broomfield said that too often the young people who make their way to iHuman feel a lack of self-worth. They often think they have nothing to hope for, but that’s not the case, she emphasized.
At iHuman,” she explained, “we discover that this is simply not true. We have discovered many highly talented individuals demonstrating amazing characteristics like creativity, loyalty, ingenuity, perseverance, leadership, ambition and above all else, resilience. Our mandate is to help these youth overcome disparity; we encourage them and support them to develop their talents, confidence, self-worth and ultimately their capacity to heal from trauma. Then, they can realize their own potential to contribute to the community.”
The authentic culture at the iHuman Youth Society is one of acceptance, openness and a genuine willingness to support youth. The focus is to offer youth opportunities to meet with iHuman professional staff and other social agency personnel as required, to engage in harm reduction activities, and participate in arts-related activities that foster positive self-worth and encourage reintegration into the community.
For more information visit iHumanyouthsociety.org