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Larissa Kitchemonia stands with the teepee liner she painted as part of the kêhtê-ayak art installation that is currently being shown at First Nations University of Canada. An open window framed in white looks out onto a dark, barren winter landscape.

A rope dangles over the ledge and a set of small footprints can be seen in the snow leading away from the window, towards a glowing white moon.

“What could drive a person to jump out of a window in the middle of winter?” asked the man responsible for the chilling scene, Adam Martin.

A local visual artist, Martin was tasked with using art to bring to life the history of residential schools as part of an art installation at First Nations University of Canada that opened Thursday morning.

The installation, titled kêhtê-ayak, includes 14 teepees located in a circle on the lawn of the university. Each teepee has been adorned with a painted liner, created by seven artists over the summer, and each tackles a different theme or story.

An artistic interpretation of the history, traditions, languages and knowledge systems of Indigenous Canada’s Indigenous Peoples, the installation brings to life history from the very beginning of life to the present, addressing creation stories, first contact, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and more.

Martin said tackling the history of residential schools was particularly heavy.

“The windows were sort of my way to express through the facts,” he said.

Martin painted four windows, all framed in white, but looking out onto four different scenes — summer, fall, winter and spring. All four look out onto the expansive, open free landscapes, representing the land that was taken from Indigenous Peoples during colonization.

A small wooden desk sits in the centre of the teepee. An image of a crucified Indigenous girl adorns one section of the liner; the word ‘assimilation’ underneath a maple leaf fills another spot. A teepee liner painted by Adam Martin hangs in a teepee as part of the kêhtê-ayak art installation that is currently being shown at First Nations University of Canada. It is meant to mimic sitting inside a classroom. The room created by the teepee is white, sterile and structured, meant to represent the strict regimentation of a residential school, which worked towards “stripping the individual away.”

“You imagine an escape,” said Martin as you stand and stare out the painted windows, putting yourself in the shoes of a student.

As you enter each teepee, you are transported to a different space and time. Fourth-year bachelor of arts student and artist Larissa Kitchemonia collaborated with fellow artist Shayla McNabb to bring the theme of creation to life in one of the teepees.

A turtle representing Turtle Island sits in the centre of the piece. The tree of creation sits within it. From each side, life bursts from the tree in dramatic red and blue swooping lines, and from those lines, different animals emerge — like the raven, buffalo and otter.

“Every creation story has an animal figure or spirit that plays the key role in it,” said Kitchemonia.

“I think as artists we have a job where we are allowed to take information and put it visually, whatever that may be,” she said. “This teepee specifically was really cool because creation is what we do (as artists). That’s an important story in itself.” A teepee liner painted by Larissa Kitchemonia and Shayla McNabb hangs in a teepee as part of the kêhtê-ayak art installation that is currently being shown at First Nations University. Surrounding the 14 teepees are several buffalo sculptures created by the First Nations University associate professor Lionel Peyachew, and are there to represent education.

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