There’s a new mural in the courtyard at Fairview Elementary that tells the story of the Katzie Slough, crafted with the help of students.
“This is a mural about a greater presence that exceeds my own personal memory and history of this land,” said Carman McKay, the Indigenous artist and educator who painted the mural. “So, the generational pattern that had occurred with the animals, with the human beings.”
It draws on the story of the Katzie Slough. What it looked like in the past, the environmental challenges it faces in the present, and what the hope is for the future.
Sasha Passaglia’s Grade 7 class has been learning about the slough for the last two years, in partnership with the faculty of education at Simon Fraser University and Katzie First Nation.
The work was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, a federal research-funding agency.
“We just started collaborating on how we can really help this vision of the Katzie Slough, really encouraging the students to take part in something that is bigger than themselves and be able to give back to the land that they get to learn and play and live on every single day,” said Passaglia.
One of the first things the class did was visit the Katzie Slough. They spent four hours removing invasive species and learning about the area’s current environmental challenges.
They learned about how the Katzie Slough was a tidal wetland and a place of abundance pre-contact, but now it’s made up of disconnected channels of stagnant water full of invasive species, said Cher Hill, assistant professor in the faculty of education at Simon Fraser University.
After their trip, the students were able to hear stories about what it looked like in the past through visits from Elder Rick Bailey, an elected councillor for Katzie First Nation.
Bailey told the class about his childhood, how he grew up hunting and fishing along the Katzie Slough.
“It was part of my life,” Bailey explained. “In the fall, when the salmon fishing was done, I’d be out along the Katzie Slough, hunting. I’d go out first thing in the morning to go duck hunting and then go back in the afternoon to check my trap line, and then back… just before dark.”
But where there was once “clouds of ducks,” he continued, there are now only small flocks, here and there.
The moment Bailey had started speaking, the class went quiet.
“They were in-tune, staring, they were taking notes, they were drawing pictures,” Passaglia said. “And the questions that they were asking him, it was just, it was something I don’t think I’ll ever forget.”
It was those pictures that would inspire the mural. The students were tasked with drawing a past, present or future version of the slough.
“We invited the kids to paint what was really sitting heavy on their hearts from what they learned, what they experienced, what they saw at the slough and how they might imagine something different,” said Hill.
The pictures were then passed along to McKay, who brought their visions to life in the mural.
Hill says the hope now is students will share what they learned with their families.