Caption: Geronimo Henry stands in Walking Together exhibit space
“He told a story about all the boys
How on the last day of school
Every one of them would run to that particular window
To watch the cars pull up to pick them up
And how every year he waited as nobody came for him”
– from "Nobody Came", mixed media work by Kaneesha Hill, Pauline Johnson Collegiate & Vocational School
Geronimo Henry has a striking tattoo of the number 48 on his right hand. This is “his number” – the one he was assigned by the Mohawk Institute, the former residential school in Brantford where Henry spent 11 long, heartbreaking years beginning at the age of five.
“They took away our language, our culture… they took away our way of life,” said Henry. “I had a lot of anger and resentment for a long time after that.”
Sharing his story has become part of a healing journey for Henry, a Cayuga member of Six Nations of the Grand River, who is now 80 years old. His story, along with other survivors of the residential school system, are what informed Walking Together, an intergenerational community arts project that brought together First Nations artists, Elders, and eleven First Nations students from Pauline Johnson Collegiate and Vocational School.
Pauline Johnson C & VS students gathered information through interviews and photography as they spoke with survivors, and together, walked through the former residential school building. Learning of the sad and painful memories, students discovered the heartbreaking legacy the former residential school students have harboured, and, inspired by their courage and resilience, used this legacy to inform the project.
The resulting works of encaustic, mixed media art serve as a reminder of this chapter in Canadian history, and of the importance of having the freedom to speak one’s language and live one’s culture.
“I decided that I would spend the rest of my life sharing my story, to get the message out to the next generation,” Henry said of his involvement with Walking Together. “Every time I tell my story, I heal myself a little bit more.”
Walking Together exhibit information:
The Walking Together exhibit is on view at Woodland Cultural Centre from February 4 until May 2. Opening reception takes place Saturday, February 4 at 12 p.m.