Since 2001, the mural on Kane’s Corner has delivered a unifying message to Kahnawake: “respect our community,” written in Kanien’kéha.
But last week, the mural was defaced with graffiti that stayed up for a few days before a grassroots group of volunteers got to work repainting it. And while the mural’s original message is being restored, the community’s
disappointment about the vandalism is not so easily painted over.
“It’s hurtful to see that something so beautiful with such significance could be defaced so carelessly,” said Kirby DeLisle.
Around September 20, “PK=SQ” was spray-painted by an unknown perpetrator, right over the word “Sherihwakweniénhstak.”
“The culprit either had no knowledge of the meaning of the wording or simply didn’t care,” DeLisle continued. “Both are equally heartbreaking.”
She was involved in the initiative that first painted the mural 20 years ago. Owisó:kon Lahache of the Turtle Bay Art Studio organized a summer project in 2001 for youth to paint murals in locations that were prone to graffiti to create art for the community while inspiring young artists.
DeLisle said that the same message had been spray-painted onto the mural in 2011, so a group of community members and her got together to restore it that time, too.
In 2011, DeLisle paid out-of-pocket to gather the materials to restore the mural.
Because of that experience, DeLisle knew it was only a matter of time before it would be defaced again.
“When I heard about this last incident, I was hurt but not surprised.”
This time, the restoration efforts were organized by Maya Taylor-Barnett. The other participants in the restoration were Jasmine Dearhouse, Thea Deer, Karihohetstha Eliza Cupples, and Jamie Goodleaf.
“I just wanted to bring peace back to Kahnawake and restore a mural,” said Taylor-Barnett.
After posting her intention on Facebook, she received around $240 in donations from community members to help pay
for the supplies needed. They started their repainting efforts on September 23, but the rain forced them to stop, and now it’s a matter of accommodating everyone’s schedules to finish up. They hope to be done by October 2.
Callie Karihwiióstha Montour said she was very surprised when she saw it defaced last week. She did not understand
why someone would spray paint such a thing on a mural that spoke to mutual respect.
“It seemed so thoughtless. I wonder if they even understood what the words meant,” she said.
Frustrated with the act of vandalism, she returned to the mural on September 22, taking a photo to share on Facebook. Her post was met with many responses from others in the community who were equally discouraged by
the careless act.
“It just seemed ironic that someone was equating the Peacekeepers to non-Native cops, and they did so by writing over a mural that was hand-painted by community members, women and children, that says ‘respect our community,’” said Montour.
For both DeLisle and Montour, the frustration is about more than just this one instance of vandalism. It’s about the lack of respect the graffiti, and other instances of property damage demonstrate to the community, the culture, and the language.
“This is our home. This is our territory,” said DeLisle. “We should be proud of it and strive to help it flourish and protect it, not destroy it.”
Montour drew a comparison with road signs in Kanien’kéha she helped make and install around the community, many of
which were also defaced. She said that on a mural is the last place the culprit should have committed such an act.
“It would be nice if our community could have nice things without other people ruining it to make statements.”
“There are other ways to express political views rather than destroying art from our local artists,” DeLisle added.
But for DeLisle, every cloud has a silver lining:
“For every mural that has been defaced, there shall arise many artists accepting the challenge, restoring the original art forms and adding more throughout the community,” she explained. “It’s already started to take place.”
Savannah Stewart is a writer, editor and translator from Montreal currently reporting with The Eastern Door. She is the contributing editor for the arts for Cult MTL and her work has also appeared in Briarpatch Magazine, Ricochet, Maisonneuve Magazine and The Rover. She tweets at @SavannahMTL.