By James Wastasecoot

Graham Newman with mother Marjorie Newman, sister of Johnny Saunders, view his painting.

WINNIPEG August 10, 2021 - Mackay Indian Residential School Gathering (MRSG) assisted today at the Manitoba Museum in the repatriation of artwork by former Mackay students, who have since passed on, to their families. Famiiy members of the late Johnny Saunders (York Factory First Nation) and Abraham Lathlin (Opaskwayak Cree Nation) viewed their relative’s painting and gave instructions to MRSG on how the artwork is to be preserved. All survivors or survivor families may decide on the final disposition of their relative’s painting and may have the original artwork shipped to them or a copy made for their family. “It was very emotional for me,” said Denise Lathlin-Cook, eldest daughter of Abraham Lathlin. “I’m very happy to see that he left something behind and I love this painting.” Son, Gordie Lathlin, got the word from his mother that his dad had a painting in the museum. Upon the viewing of his dad’s artwork which he painted when he was 15, he said: “It was awesome. He never really talked to us about residential school. It was wonderful to see his painting.”

MRSG conducted a smudge of the paintings by an elder prior to their removal from the display case which is stored in a secure room at the museum. The group coordinator, Karen Wastasecoot, said: “I was very happy for the families and for their chance to connect in this way with their loved one’s residential school experience. As for the MRSG, this gives us confidence that our group can and does plan to ensure an appropriate repatriation of these student artworks in a safe manner and respectful way.”

Family of Abraham Lathlin view his painting at the Manitoba Museum.

MIRSG started the initiative of the repatriation of the Mackay former students/artists' artwork in partnership with University Victoria in 2016.  The group is planning a repatriation ceremony for the survivors' , or artists' artwork as soon as it can be arranged and is laying the groundwork by communicating with the artists and their families or communities. Prior to the COVID-19, the group planned to visit all survivors or artists in their communities to ask how they wanted their artwork repatriated. Through correspondence via phone and letters, MRSG has learned that most would prefer a private affair and the group wants to respect their wishes.

Among other things, the group has retained an Indigenous filmmaker to work with MRSG to document the repatriation process.

MRSG is planning an appropriate gathering in the coming months to continue the initiative.