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Unmasking mental health liberates Vernon Indigenous woman

Taking a deeper look at controversial Behind the Mask mural project

As a victim of the ’60s Scoop Freesia has worn many masks throughout her life.

Identity theft, sexual abuse, drug addiction, sex worker.

Now sober and living her best life, the Vernon Indigenous woman has been liberated through a recent art project she was fortunate to take part in.

The 50-year-old Cree native is one of 11 people Behind The Mask – an art installation focused on mental health.

“I felt enlightened by the mask, trying to be a better person where I fit in society as somebody who is healing,” Freesia said. “It was like putting on my new mask. The mask is my higher self.

“It’s nice to know all those other masks, survival tactics, are off.”

Tired of hiding behind unhealthy masks, Freesia said the project helped her express herself.

“It represents forgiveness of those who hurt me, including me.”

And she enjoyed being able to create with others, including Sarah Lillemo, harm reduction coordinator at the Cammy LaFleur Street Clinic.

“I feel like you really connected with the project,” Lillemo told Freesia, who has been sober since Sept 27, 2020.

Lillemo gathered the participants for the art project, led by Calgary artist Katie Green. She too was able to make a mask and have her photograph taken wearing it.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as excited about the project as the participants. The approved installation of these photographs blown up on the sides of buildings has stirred deep feelings among many area residents, calling the art ‘scary.’

“There’s nothing scary about it,” said Freesia.

The public backlash has hurt the participants and those involved. Freesia even thought that perhaps it was racially motivated due to her status.

Lillemo says those who aren’t comfortable with the art, “feel more comfortable hiding behind their keyboard and saying hateful things.”

There are others who are in full support of the project, and in the end, the goal of the art to spark a conversation around mental health has been reached.

The 60s Scoop refers to the large-scale removal of Indigenous children from their homes, communities and families and their subsequent adoption into predominantly non-Indigenous, middle-class families across the United States and Canada. This experience left many adoptees with a lost sense of cultural identity.

READ MORE: Thousands petition for/against Vernon art project

READ MORE: City unmasks funds for Vernon gallery project


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Jennifer Smith

About the Author: Jennifer Smith

20-year-Morning Star veteran
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