To symbolize reconciliation between his community and the Anglican Church, Indigenous artist Leroy Henry has designed an Eagle Tree of Peace statue, which will be a centrepiece at the Huron University campus in London, Ont.
Henry, who is a Haudenosaunee artist from Six Nations of the Grand River near Brantford, Ont., said the statue represents the “great law of peace,” which is a historic agreement that bound all six of the separate First Nations together to create harmony.
“What it symbolizes is that piece of the great law. It’s very important, it governs who we are and what we should be, and how we should be treating each other,” he said.
For the Anglican Church-affiliated university, the statue serves as a constant reminder of its commitment to reconciliation for the church’s role in running residential schools in southwestern Ontario, and to honour original peoples of the land, they said when unveiling the statue on Thursday.
Henry said the statue had been a work in progress for his family for about 38 years. The original design was crafted by his now-retired father, which Henry took over and completed.
“It’s been a family legacy, we worked together to get this far,” he said. “My dad was the leader when he was carving, so it’s kind of like I’m pulling my family’s name with me and carrying that lead to different heights.”
The five arrows in the middle represent the original Five Nations of the Grand River, with the Tuscarora Nation as its most recent addition.
Together, they all form the largest First Nations community in Canada, consisting of Mohawk, Oneida, Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga and Tuscarora Nations.
‘A long walk to build trust again’
Sean Hoogterp, coordinator of Indigenous initiatives at Huron, hopes the statue can create an inviting space for Indigenous students who want to pursue post-secondary education.
Hoogterp grew up with a Catholic father and his mother from the Walpole Island First Nation Bkejwanong Territory in southwestern Ontario. He believes his role at the university can help foster a healthier relationship with Indigenous communities.
“I’ve experienced both sides of colonialism and Indigeneity,” he said. “I believe when we acknowledge the history, then we can bridge that gap for our Indigenous students living in rural communities.”
Anyone who walks by campus cannot miss the large statue which is a symbol of a step toward reconciliation, said Huron’s president, Barry Craig.
“The past is something none of us can change but we can recognize the things we’ve done wrong in the past and vow to never do it again and to try and fix it, that’s what reconciliation is about, it’s a long walk to build trust again with those that we’ve hurt,” he said.
Craig said he wanted to fill the campus’ new academic building with art by Indigenous creators. That’s when he was introduced to Henry, who not only designed the statue, but taught Craig plenty about his rich culture.
“Each time I talked to Leroy, he’s taken me another level deeper in understanding about his people and their culture. The connection to the land, that depth that goes below the surface that’s been there for thousands of years,” he added.
Craig looks forward to when students return to campus in September, and ask him about the statue so that he can share its story with the guidance of Henry and Indigenous elders. He hopes students’ curiosity can drive them deeper in understanding history.
Henry hopes that someday his future generations can take the lead and create something even bigger and better than his statue, but until then, he’s satisfied watching his creation come to life.