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Abbotsford Senior Art Activism class shines light on Indigenous over incarceration

Student art work on display at The Reach gallery until June 21
Abbotsford Senior Secondary School Art Activism students paintings are on display at The Reach gallery until June 21. (Submitted)

Statistics released by the Office of the Correctional Investigator last December were sobering for those concerned with the over incarceration of Indigenous people.

Almost 50 per cent of all federally-sentenced women are Indigenous and the combined men and women proportion has now reached 32 per cent and appears to be climbing.

The data also revealed that those numbers have jumped in the last 10 years, with Indigenous inmate population increasing by 28.26 per cent, while non-Indigenous has actually decreased 18.1 per cent.

The numbers are staggering, especially because the Indigenous population of Canada is only around five per cent.

It’s in that spirit that Abbotsford Senior Secondary School art teacher Nikita Griffioen and her students have decided to shine a light on this issue. She told The News that after last year’s successful examination into racism she was approached by UBC’s Art Justice class led by Kelsey Timler and Dr. Helen Brown to collaborate on the topic of the over incarceration of Indigenous peoples.

Griffioen also worked alongside Corrections Canada and Kwìkwèxwelhp Healing Village on the project.

“My students worked hard to educate themselves on this topic and create large-scale artworks on the themes,” she said, noting that they researched topics such as Canada’s prison system, residential schools, the justice system and more. “The students of both UBC and ASSS hope that in raising awareness for this topic we can work towards Truth and Reconciliation for Indigenous peoples by educating the general public and encouraging discussion. I am immensely proud of my students and their hard work.”

The students’ works will run at The Reach gallery until June 22. The students participating in the event are in Grades 10 to 12. Students in the show include:

  • Jess Bayda
  • Mia Gill
  • Jennifer Guthrie
  • Tanisha Kashyap
  • Reena Khattar
  • Jaye Kovacs
  • Brandon Lalonde
  • Zyrelle Languido
  • Tanisha Litt
  • C. Luu
  • Zyana Marteja
  • Sarah Bourquin
  • Emma Ransom
  • io Reitsma
  • Emily Shanh
  • James Sullivan
  • Ari Zwinge

Griffioen said she believes the challenges Indigenous face related to incarceration and Canada’s justice system are frequently neglected.

“There are many facets to learning about and working towards Truth and Reconciliation,” she said. “One that is often overlooked is the plights and journeys of those who are incarcerated – including their histories of residential schools (and possibly generational trauma), environments in which they were raised and how Canada’s justice system handles these realities.”

She added that she thinks education is a powerful tool and teenagers using art to express and educate themselves and others can be extremely effective.

“This semester I have had the privilege of watching my students grow in knowledge on the topic and come up with passionate ideas for large-scale paintings,” she said. “It is our collective intention to present these to the public to help not only share our knowledge, but also facilitate discussion around the topic.”

RELATED: Abbotsford Senior Art Activism class examines racism

Ben Lypka

About the Author: Ben Lypka

I joined the Abbotsford News in 2015.
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