Keegan Starlight, mural artist

Today – September 30, 2021 – is the first official National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Across Turtle Island (Canada), we’ve seen Canadians open their hearts and minds to Indigenous experiences and start their own individual journeys of reconciliation. My own journey started through the honest and generous conversations I’ve had with people like Helena Mazawasicuna, Melissa Tacan, Carol Pechawis, and Loretta Jacko on PumpTalk.

Reconciliation can take many forms. On a personal level, it has included learning about the impact that colonial actions continue to have on Indigenous communities and how I, as a white settler, continue to benefit. I have also tried to cultivate a more thorough appreciation for Indigenous culture. An event I (virtually) attended this past summer was the International Indigenous Music Summit’s project “Giiwewizh” – a series of mini-documentaries and live-performance footage featuring 16 Indigenous artists from across Canada. I discovered so much amazing music!

Along with individuals, companies like Suncor, the proud parent of Petro-Canada, are also on their own journey of reconciliation, a journey that could take many forms. At Petro-Canada, we have an opportunity to provide space for Indigenous Peoples to share their experiences and history, and to reclaim their identity, language, culture and nationhood through our network of sites. Which is why we are commissioning Indigenous artists to create murals at six of our locations – Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver – to commemorate National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

The first completed mural that we’re delighted to unveil is “Connected” by Keegan Starlight. Keegan is an artist from the Tsuut’ina First Nation just west of Calgary.

PumpTalk: Can you tell me about the story portrayed on your mural?

Keegan Starlight: In this case the buffalo and the raven are like a cycle – a cycle of growth and change that have existed in the natural world forever – and the connection between the Creator, the earth, the water and the spirit. I have included the prairie grass (Buffalo grass/sage) in the mural, something that is regionally present here in Alberta, and would be something that the buffalo would eat to survive.

PT: What inspires your art?

KS: My culture certainly, how I grew up. I like to think of my art as my culture, but through my eyes, my own interpretation. My grandfather was a big inspiration for me; I would watch him when I was younger and admire how easily it came to him. For him it was natural and easy, I wanted to model myself after him.

PT: Why is art an important form of storytelling?

KS: Indigenous culture has a deep-rooted system for creativity and storytelling. Art and artistic expression is a huge part of how we tell stories. Long ago there wasn’t always the written word, so we depended on storytelling and art to help us keep our histories alive. Many of our stories are around today because they survived through art and the spoken word.

PT: What was your process for planning and creating your mural?

KS: Mostly I paint what I know. I love the way the blue and the coral colours work together to depict our wide-open sky, with the foothills in the distance. It’s the colour of sunrise and sunset.

PT: What does reconciliation mean to you?

KS: Reconciliation means we benefit from a common education of the current and past injustices of Indigenous peoples. It means accepting that those injustices are part of our history, and continue to be felt across Indigenous communities across Canada. I personally feel positive about what I am seeing in Canada, people are open to listening and learning, but it cannot undo the past and it doesn’t change the fact that we still experience racism, do not have access to clean drinking water, and face discrimination everyday.

PT: Why did you decide to participate in Petro-Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Mural Project?

KS: Oil and gas is a touchy subject. As long as Petro-Canada is actually doing the hard work and taking steps then I’m supportive, very supportive. Suncor has shown they are taking the right steps, and knowing that Suncor owns Petro-Canada, I feel very good about it. With Petro-Canada and Suncor providing this opportunity, I knew I wanted to support it.

PT: What do you see as the benefit of having a mural in such a public space like the side of a Petro-Canada station?

KS: It’s a great location, very diverse and busy. People walk by, drive by; they stop and say “hi”. Of course, it’s close to Tsuut’ina, which is where I’m from, so we can come by and enjoy it all the time.

You can hear more from Keegan about his creative process, the story of his mural and how we can all get involved in the process of reconciliation in the following video.

You’ll find Keegan’s mural at the Petro-Canada location at 5505 Signal Hill Centre SW Calgary, AB.

A big thank you to Keegan for creating his mural and sharing his vision for reconciliation; be sure to check out his Instagram! And thank you to Dave Cheung from DQStudios for shooting amazing pictures and video.

Over the next few months we’ll be introducing our other mural artists and revealing their creations. Stay tuned to our Instagram for sneak peeks of their work.

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