Dawn Saunders-Dahl, Jason Botkin, and Lillian Rose, teamed up to design and create a unique mural in the foyer of the Columbia Valley Recreation Centre. Photo by Katie Watt

Mural honours athletes from Ktunaxa community at new rec centre

Columbia Valley Recreation Centre opens Thursday, April 18th

By Katie Watt


In the Columbia Valley Recreation Centre, the walls have come to life.

A kaleidoscope of painted faces and intricate designs create a flowing mural across all four walls of the main entrance foyer. The project, designed by a team of three, was created to recognize the athletic achievements of the Ktunaxa community.

Lillian Rose, project curator; Jason Botkin, muralist; and Dawn Saunders-Dahl, arts administrator, are the members of the three person design team behind the project.

“This wall is a tribute to the generations of Ktunaxa and Akisqnuk people who have been involved in athletic pursuits,” says Ms. Rose.

The mural honours athletic achievement in a unique way through visual storytelling. The faces of approximately 60 athletes spanning six generations from the Ktunaxa community are being painted on the wall.

The project aims to “honour the athletes of the past by supporting the ones of today and tomorrow,” says Bryan Armstrong, head coordinator of the recreation centre.

Each face in the mural will have a name attributed to it, and it will “invite a lot of careful reading,” says Mr. Botkin.

To make the mural come to fruition, the team had to first collect images of the athletes within the community. These images would then be used as a reference for the portraits painted in the mural. This hunt for photos was one of the most challenging yet most rewarding aspects of the project.

“You just assume that everyone has photos and that it’s something to be easily collated, but that hasn’t been the case in this community,” says Mr. Botkin.

“We’re finding that people are very humble. We have people who have been scouted by the NHL, and when you go their house and ask them what they’ve done they tell you that nothing comes to mind,” says Ms. Rose.

Mr. Botkin agrees, adding that: “In the minds of many we’ve talked to, their accomplishments just weren’t a big deal. Somehow, it was normalized to be exceptional.”

Another issue that arose was that some of the athletes in the community don’t have high quality photos of themselves. To solve this problem, however, local photographers, Lisa and Robert Ede from Redneck Hippy Studios, helped grow the project’s image library by taking photos of the athletes.

With the help of the photographer pair, the team has managed to gather a strong collection of images that feature Ktunaxa athletes from the 1880’s to present day.

Ms. Rose’s positive mentality has allowed her to step around the project’s hurdles.

“I’m part of the community here, they’re my family, and I’m their biggest fan. Part of being Ktunaxa is that you don’t lift yourself up over anybody else, but the best part of my job is that I get to do that for them,” she says.

While the project honours athletic achievement, the team of three sees it as symbolizing much more than that.

“What I find really unique about the project is that it’s open to the whole community. It’s not only here for the Nation. It’s fantastic, and it’s another way to bridge that gap between communities, and between art and sports,” says Ms. Saunders-Dahl. “There’s also a lot of potential for it to be used as an educational tool as well.”

Mr. Botkin put a considerable amount of thought and work into the design of the mural itself. Every aspect of the artwork has meaning behind it. At the centre of the mural is the face of a past Ktunaxa chief, Louis Arbel, whose face is set in the trunk of a large tree. From there, the branches and roots spread from the tree and encompass the walls of the room like a bird’s nest. The faces of the athletes are positioned between the branches, with the members from the oldest generation being placed closest to the trunk. The mural also contains many images from the Ktunaxa’s creation story, and has references to residential schools as well.

The piece will be open to public viewing when the Columbia Lake Recreation Centre opens Thursday, April 18th.

“When people see it, it’s like there’s an instant bond between what’s happening on the wall and themselves,” says Ms. Saunders-Dahl.

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