Ten years ago, Chad Pratch found out his great-grandmother was Metis. It was a secret she took to her grave but one his uncle, a police detective, was able to unearth.
Pratch didn’t know it then, but within a few years that heritage would lead the then UBCO art student to be asked to create a sculpture honouring young aboriginal children in the Central Okanagan and their families, a theme he depicts in his work as children in a canoe moving on from the legacies left by Canada’s residential school system.
“When I found out I was 1/16th Metis, I didn’t think that much about it,” said Pratrch, 32, as he prepared his Movement sculpture in the new outdoor courtyard of Kelowna General Hospital for its public unveiling this afternoon.
He said when he was first asked to create the work, he was hesitant. He did not really consider himself aboriginal and did not know if he could do it, coming from what he considered a non-aboriginal background.
His great-grandmother kept her aboriginal identity secret all her life, having been a residential school student and someone who had felt the pain and humiliation associated with her time there.
But Pratch said with lot of support from the local aboriginal community, the sculpture took shape in his mind, first as a wall-mounted relief and then, at the request of KHG, as a full-blown sculpture.
“I’m a real watered-down aboriginal,” said Pratch with a smile about his initial hesitance. “What did I know about (the residential school experience and legacy)?”
But as the work moved from his vision to a reality, it became a more personal piece for him, in part as a tribute to his great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Ladouceur) Jones, who he said obviously felt she had to hide her aboriginal heritage, even from her family.
Commissioned by Aboriginal CATCH (Community Action Toward Children’s Health), Movement consists of a pile of red bricks, representing the crumbling residential school system, metal feathers springing up from the bricks representing those who survived and did not survive the schools and floating on the bricks, a metal canoe carrying five children, some with their arms outstretched to embrace the future.
“The canoe seemed like a good symbol for moving forward,” said Pratch, who completed the work in 2008 but had to wait seven years for a place to be found to display it. In the end, Kelowna General Hospital agreed it should go in its new outdoor courtyard between the Centennial Building and the new Interior Heart and Surgical Centre.
The delay, caused in part by the search for a place to display it and then by construction of the two new hospital buildings, had Pratch, by now a teacher in Calgary, considering scraping the pieces of the sculpture rather than keeping them stored in his father’s garage. “When I got the email (that the time had come for the installation), I was like, what sculpture? Oh, yea, that one. I remembered” said Pratch laughing.