The recent heartbreaking discovery of unmarked children’s graves on the grounds of the Kamloops residential school has shocked and dismayed the nation. While scanning the grounds of the Kamloops school, once the largest residential school in Canada, a private firm using ground-penetrating radar came across the remains of 215 children, some as young as three years old.
This news sparked outrage across the country, with many demanding formal investigations and many indigenous groups calling for a nationwide search for mass graves at residential school sites.
While finding these graves was highly tragic, it was also necessary to bring to the public’s awareness the horrors experienced by Indigenous children attending these schools. It is also vital for people to understand the far-reaching legacy these schools had on the Indigenous community.
Upon hearing the tragic news, two Mi’kmaq artists based in Quebec made it their mission to capitalize on their global recognition and make a custom sneaker dedicated to the children. They created a pair of children’s size 6 Nike Air force Ones beaded in the color orange with the number 215 displayed on them.
Who are these artists?
Cheyenne Isaac-Gloade is a 31-year-old from Listuguj, Quebec. She was exposed to beadwork at an early age and has been pursuing her passion ever since. Her husband Garrett Gloade grew up in Millbrook First Nation and learned more about beadwork while attending a course at the Millbrook Cultural Centre.
The couple gained international recognition through working with Nova-Scotia-born director Andy-Hines on his music video “Powerless” in 2018. They both appeared in the video, which featured traditional Mi’kmaq dancing and drumming.
During the music video filming, the Galodes struck a friendship with Hines, currently based in Los Angeles, and remained in touch to brainstorm future collaborations and ideas. Hines, and his talent agency Off-Site, helped arrange a sponsorship with Nike Toronto, which then supplied the couple with Air Force ones for them to bead.
The legacy of residential schools
Both Galore and her husband have been affected by generational trauma resulting from the residential school system. The artist, whose 87-year-old grandfather was a survivor of the residential schools, recalls speaking with him on the phone to ask if he heard the news. “And the phone just went silent, and he was just weeping on the other end, and, for me, that was so hard to hear my grandfather feel so strongly and have that much trauma probably had to be relived for him,” she said.
The couple understood what impact seeing children’s shoes displayed around the country would have and instantly knew what they wanted their piece to be. They wanted to make a strong statement through their art and decided to keep their design simple.
Galore explains that the idea is to heal through art and tying traditional practices to everyday items can be a great avenue to get this message across and fight for justice for the indigenous community.
Educating people through art
The beading designs are based on four-hundred-year-old Mi’kmaq quillwork; Cheyenne creates the designs. While her husband Garrett does the meticulous beadwork, the one shoe can take up to 36 hours to complete! The couple has made close to a dozen beaded sneakers for Nike since March of this year, and soon some of them will be part of a display at the Halifax Shopping Center.
The artists plan to have child-sized sneakers, which will not be for sale, displayed with information about the residential system and the countless victims and survivors. These schools totaled 139 federally funded institutions that operated in Canada between the years 1867 to 1996. Cheyenne’s goal is to ultimately donate these shoes to the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation for a memorial dedicated to the 215 children.
Her hope is that the settlers of this country take this tragedy as an opportunity to learn and educate themselves about the Indigenous experience and really listen to their fellow countrymen and women.