Wexler works with Indigenous community in Halifax, Canada during Fulbright travels

A participant in "This Is What I Wish You Knew," which University of Massachusetts Community Health Education faculty Lisa Wexler helped facilitate

A participant at the MNFC works to create her clay tile
(Photo courtesy of This is What I Wish You Knew)

December 13, 2016

Lisa Wexler, Associate Professor of Community Health Education, returned to campus this fall after a semester in Halifax, Canada on a Fulbright scholarship. During her travels, Wexler’s primary focus was a community arts project titled “This is What I Wish You Knew.” The project aims to tell stories from 50 participants about their experience living in Halifax and being Indigenous people. Each contributor designed their own clay tile, which were assembled into a larger mural.

“This is What I Wish You Knew” took shape at the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre (MNFC) in Halifax, using the participatory research method Intergenerational Dialogue Exchange and Action (IDEA). Wexler first developed IDEA working with indigenous people during a National Science Foundation-supported pilot project in Kotzebue, Alaska.

“The project aims to increase visibility of urban Indigenous peoples in Halifax,” explains Wexler.

“It is driven by the intricately linked goals of awareness of Canada’s historic and on-going role in colonialism, recognition of the experience of Indigenous peoples in Canada, increased responsibility of the citizenry for Indigenous social justice, and then reconciliation,” she adds.

The mural was unveiled at the MFNC on June 21, 2016, to coincide with National Aboriginal Day in Canada, a holiday when Indigenous people in the country celebrate their culture, heritage, and role in shaping the country. Each tile artist is profiled in a short film on the project’s website, and the mural will remain permanently installed at the MFNC.

“The project also involved a college course in which ten Indigenous college students from Dalhousie University and Nova Scotia College of Art and Design learned and talked about identity, structural violence, and the meaning of community,” says Wexler.

“These investigations and dialogue are being further explored through an on-going research project, which focuses on initiating dialogue as part of a reconciliation effort and to share stories related to Indigenous identity in Halifax for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada,” she continues.

The MNFC led the project, and Wexler’s collaborators included Amy Bombay and Adele Vukic of Dalhousie University, Carla Taunton of Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and Michelle Paul, a community worker at the MFNC.