A photographer living in Humboldt, Sask. will have her work showcased as part of a new Canada 150 exhibition at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.
Melanie Gray’s photograph, titled The Next Generation, will be one of 70 presented in the Canada 150 Points of View exhibit, which will open a week before Canada Day.
Two years ago, Gray snapped the photo during an intertribal dance at a powwow in her home community of Rama First Nation in Ontario.
The photo features girls dancing in front of Elders at dusk, and Gray said the best part is seeing the community’s pride in their Indigenous culture.
She said she remembers that day well, and that she took the photo with Canada’s colonial past in mind.
“There’s been a lot of hardships and oppression, such as colonization and forced assimilation, the Indian Act, residential schools, the Sixties Scoop,” explained Gray. “What makes me hopeful is that I see healing in that and that’s important for our next generation as we move towards reconciliation.”
In February, she received the news that her photo was selected among more than 980 others, and she couldn’t believe her eyes.
“I was actually in complete shock when I got the email,” laughed Gray. “I had to read it four times, just to make sure.”
She said she’s excited for people from all backgrounds, ages and education levels to view her piece.
“I’m hoping to tell the story of how resilient and how proud our people are,” said Gray. “Everything that we’ve been through, we’re still here, and I think that’s really a message I’d like to convey to people.”
She added that her goal isn’t to make anyone feel guilty about celebrating Canada Day, but she hopes people will acknowledge the country’s past through her work.
“My main message is to bring awareness, so that when you’re celebrating it, you take a moment to reflect on our true history and what that means to different people,” said Gray.
Most of all, she wants her photo to perpetuate the dialogue around reconciliation.
“I think once we can have that understanding and that healing take place, and those crucial conversations happen between First Nations and non-First Nations people, we’ll all be better for it,” said Gray. “I believe Canada will be better for it as well, meaning the next generation will have a better start.”
(With files from 620 CKRM’s Christina Cherneskey)