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Honouring Indigenous Presence Through Treaty 7 Artists' Mural Artwork

Back to the Cairn


By Dawn Saunders Dahl, Manager of Indigenous Relationships and Programs & Tera Swanson, Marketing and Communications Manager


Since a time beyond memory, the Cave and Basin, Banff, and surrounding areas have been a place for gathering, healing, trade, travel, cultural exchange, economic activity, spiritual practice, and ceremony in connection with the land.


Over thousands of years to the present, many different peoples have lived in and

visited this place, making it what it is today—a landscape multi-layered with stories, languages, memories, and perspectives.


This year, the Peter and Catharine Whyte Foundation and Cave and Basin National Historic Site partnered to honour the rich Indigenous history and contemporary significance of this special and sacred space through the arts.



Mural projects in progress at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site.
Photo 1

Indigenous connections to the hot springs, Banff, and the mountains are visible to all site visitors in the form of colorful murals created by emerging Indigenous artists. The guiding theme for the project is “Stories of this Place.” Selected artists in 2022 are from Treaty 7 nations: Gordon Wesley - Îyârhe Nakoda, Ina Old Shoes - Kainai (Blackfoot) and Nathan Meguinis - Tsuut’tina (Dene).


Ina Old Shoes shared her experience participating in this mural project, and how she interpreted the "Stories of this Place" theme. The Niitsitapi artist from Kainai illustrates the stories of her people in the mountains, stories that have not been shared often and can now be a part of the history of Banff.

Ina Old Shoes mural portrait painting of Pete Weasel Mocassin.
Photo 2

"Because I'm not going to be there to be able to tell people the story, I'm not going to be there to be able to represent that voice in that story, I wanted somebody who I knew was well respected within our tribe, to be able to be that face," she explained. "And that's why I chose my grandpa, Pete Weasel Moccasin to be the face of Kainai, and be the person to be able to represent all of us."


One side of Ina's 8x8 foot mural is a portrait of her grandfather, with his arms outstretched and palms facing upward.


"I wanted his hands out to be able to be telling the story because we speak with our hands," she said. "And when adults approach this mural, you get to go back into the perspective of a child being able to listen to a story from an Elder, so there's a lot of symbolism behind it and there's a lot of perspective."


Leading up to the project, the artists toured the Cave and Basin National Historic Site and accessed the Whyte Museum Archives and Special Collections to aid in researching and developing the ideas for their mural paintings.


Ina shared her experience:


A settler perspective was shared about the first European visitors to the hot springs – that when they smelled sulfur, they smelled money. When they touched the warm water, they knew it was liquid gold and that they could make money off the land. This inspired me to share Blackfoot knowledge that is not centered around monetary wealth, but of spiritual wealth through knowledge.


From here, she asked her Elder about the Rocky Mountains in Banff, and she was told that her people never really settled in the mountains or inhabited these parts.


Ina Old Shoes working on her mural at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site.
Image 3

"We were Plains people who were around Ninaistako (Chief Mountain) most of the time and followed the buffalo," she said. "When we did come to the mountains, it was for vision quests. During this project I learned how to access and research collections at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, so I began with books that spoke about vision quests."


This story is depicted in another panel of her mural, with a young man in pre-colonial times in the early morning having a vision of a Buffalo spirit.


Learn more about the mural artwork of Gordon Wesley, Ina Old Shoes, and Nathan Meguinis, and read their full artist statements here.


Mentorship and cooperation between partners, community, Elders, staff, and artists are key for collaborative projects to be a success. Indigenous arts and culture hold an unmeasurable wealth of knowledge, and for centuries Elders, Knowledge Keepers and Artists have provided support systems for younger generations. As generations leave, that loss of knowledge combined with

integration of different worldviews reduces and limits opportunities to continue to ‘pass the fire’.



Gallery 1


The goal of embedding a mentorship opportunity within the Cave and Basin Mural project is to provide positive experiences through the transfer of knowledge, strengthening Indigenous artistic voices within the public art and art exhibition fields.


"The success of this project reinforces how important it is to have patience and take the time to include thoughtful conversations with the Indigenous community, artists, and partners," says Dawn Saunders Dahl, Manager of Indigenous Relationships and Programs at the Whyte Museum.


"We were able to create and deliver this project to directly support emerging Indigenous artists and ensure they gain experience and skills. Having positive experiences for artists and administration solidifies future projects that ensure Indigenous artists and community have the opportunity to also share their stories of this place."


This project was guided by Dawn Saunders Dahl, Angus Leech with Parks Canada, and Mural Artist AJA Louden. In addition to mentoring the artists about art techniques, research, and public art, Cheyenne Bearspaw - Îyârhe Nakoda was also mentored about events, mural, and art administration. 


The Whyte Museum looks forward to further collaborations and partnerships as we continue to

connect with the people and the lands that we reside on. We acknowledge that in order to continue this important work, we all must learn the truths and actively reconcile the consequences of these truths, in the spaces where we learn, work and socialize.


To learn more about Indigenous programs and initiatives at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, please visit whyte.org/indigenous


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Source: Old Shoes, Ina. Interview by Tera Swanson. Personal Interview. Banff, AB, July 15, 2022.


Image Captions:

  1. Mural paintings in progress at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. Photo by Josh Segeleski.

  2. Ina Old Shoes portrait painting of grandfather Pete Weasel Mocassin. Photo by Josh Segeleski.

  3. Ina Old Shoes working on mural painting. Photo by Dawn Saunders Dahl.


Gallery Captions:

  1. Treaty 7 Artist Ina Old Shoes working on mural painting. Photo by Josh Segeleski.

  2. Treaty 7 Artist Nathan Meguinis working on mural painting. Photo by Josh Segeleski.

  3. Treaty 7 Artist Gordon Wesley working on mural painting. Photo by Josh Segeleski.

  4. Mentor AJA Louden putting finishing touches on Gordon Wesley's mural painting. Photo by Josh Segelski.

  5. Treaty 7 Artist Gordon Wesley working on mural painting. Photo by Josh Segeleski.

  6. Treaty 7 Artist Gordon Wesley working on mural painting. Photo by Josh Segeleski.

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