“Indigenous culture has a deep-rooted system for creativity and storytelling,” says Keegan Starlight, an artist from the Tsuut’ina Nation, west of Calgary, Alberta.
One of Keegan’s latest works of art, named Connected, is now decorating a gas station in Calgary, close to his home.
Petro-Canada commissioned Indigenous artists to create murals at six of its locations across the country—Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver—with the sides of the stations as a canvas for the artists to share their experiences and history, and to reclaim their identity, language, culture and nationhood.
“Art and artistic expression is a huge part of how we tell stories,” says Keegan. “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.”
Keegan’s inspiration comes from his culture and his heritage, naming his grandfather as his inspiration.
“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,” he adds.
The story behind the art
“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,” explains Keegan.
Keegan prefers to paint what he knows, and living in Alberta, he captured the beauty of the sprawling fields and blue skies. “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.”
Suncor’s Journey of Reconciliation reflects the continued transformation both within the organization and in relationships with Indigenous Peoples. It’s a journey that requires a willingness to listen, understand and collaborate with Indigenous Peoples and communities.
To Keegan, 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,” says Keegan. “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 every day.”
You’ll find Keegan’s mural at the Petro-Canada retail station located at 5505 Signal Hill Centre SW in Calgary.