Don’t be fooled – an eye-catching display of artwork on the back of the local grocery store in Mayo, Yukon isn’t graffiti.

The colorful series of 11 self-portraits was sprayed by high school students at JV Clark School in Mayo.

Ninth grader Liam Samson, a member of the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation (NNNDFN), says he enjoyed working on the portraits with his peers.

“I think people will like it. It looks pretty good from a distance, ”he told APTN News.

Irene Melancon, who is also a member of NNDFN, has created a self-portrait that shows her face in bright blocks of color.

She says the project brought a touch of color to the small village of around 450 residents.

“It makes the community more colorful and not just simple buildings,” she says.

The portraits are part of an initiative to promote the psychological well-being of students outside of the clinical setting.

It was started by students at Carleton University in Ottawa.

The university has an agreement with NNDFN to collaborate on multidisciplinary research projects that focus on indigenous and northern studies, community and human development, post-secondary education, research and access for learner.

The idea for the project started in January. The high school students, as well as a teacher, met with the Carleton graduates weekly to develop the idea.

Troy Anderson, an assistant professor who oversees the group, says both groups of students worked side by side and ended up on a mural.

He says that high school students have shown courage to commit to self-portraits because “we often fear that either our skills are not good enough or that people might make fun of us … theirs for many years.”

Students say the project helped with mental health as well.

Cheyenne Gordon, a ninth grader and citizen of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation, says working outdoors on portraits and being away from the classroom reduced stress.

“To be honest, I love art,” she says. “Art seems to calm me down for some reason after something might have happened or an argument, so it seems pretty comforting.”

Since the COVID-19 restrictions prevented PhD students from working with high school students on the project, it was largely funded and monitored by the Mobile Therapy Unit (MTU) of the Yukon First Nation Education Directorate.

MTU is a traveling health service for indigenous children in rural communities that was launched last year.

Reporter / Whitehorse

Sara Connors is originally from Nova Scotia and has a degree in Journalism from the University of King’s College, Halifax. After graduating, she worked in South Korea as an English teacher and freelance journalist for two years. After returning home in 2019, she worked behind the scenes at CTV Atlantic in Halifax before moving to APTN’s Yukon office in July 2020.

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