Covenant Chain Mural


Scarborough Centre for Alternative Studies, 2016

Art students were asked to research an aspect of art history from their respective cultures that reflected one of the Grandfather Teachings and to paint it into the mural to declare their understanding of the Niagara Treaty Wampum agreements.[1]  By calling on the knowledge derived from their own cultural backgrounds to make sense of local Indigenous teachings, students experienced what Roger Simon (1987) calls “a pedagogy that empowers” as they were able to “draw upon their own cultural resources as a basis for engaging in the development of new skills and interrogating existing knowledge claims”(Simon, 1987).  A student from Palestine wanted to write his name, Fouad, which is the Arabic word for “Love”.  We got him to paint it in the centre, at the base of the mural as this is the foundation of the treaty relationship.  Another student depicts Lakshmi because he said that she can help Canada distribute the wealth equally with First Nation communities, especially the 94 that are currently without clean running water.  Another student painted a sun design from the first page of the Quran to represent the terms of the agreement “For as long as the sun shines…” Another student painted a Japanese dragon as an element of strength to depict the resiliency and the collective power of our voices.  Each student demonstrated a “strong act of construction… [as they] connect[ed] new information with existing ideas to form meaningful knowledge that has a measure of internal coherence” (Confrey & Noddings in Windschitl, 2002).


Indigenous Studies students contributed to the mural by collaging a current event into one of the chain links to represent how the silver of the Covenant Chain has become tarnished and requires polishing.  Many focused on the resiliency of Indigenous youth to symbolize the polishing process.


The message of this art piece is to find wisdom from the past in order to move forward in a good way.  As present-day First Nation and Canadian citizens, we can aspire to form a new relationship on equal terms like the treaty partners depicted in the Wampum imagery.  The background figures represent the Seven Grandfather Teachings, Indigenous tenets for human conduct – love, respect, humility, bravery, and strength, truth, honesty, and wisdom – expressed through the perspectives of our students’ diverse cultural backgrounds.  It appears that the old Teachings originating from this land are recognizable as universal human values.  By choosing to live according to these teachings, we can make decisions that will lead to Mino Bimaadiziwin (good life) for everyone.


“The Covenant Chain Mural 2016, is a remarkably beautiful artistic interpretation of the spirit of the original covenant that was concluded between the Crown and the 24 Indigenous Nations.  Among the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was to bring Indigenous history into the classroom, in a way that would enlighten students and break down distorted stereotypes of the past.  This mural goes beyond that recommendation in that it demonstrates that there is a way to include all nationalities who now call Canada home.  This new covenant invites all Canadians to share in the circle of peace and friendship that was first offered by the Indigenous Peoples to the British 252 years ago.  I commend the students, teacher, and school authorities who had the creativity and vision to see this mural produced, and trust it will have an honoured place to be displayed where this story can be shared for many years to come.  Well done.”

– Dr. Duke Redbird, Indigenous Wisdom Keeper and Elder, Education Consultant, Arts and Culture




[1]  The Niagara Treaty was made between the Crown – not Canada – and First Nations surrounding the Great Lakes.   Canada was later created as a settler state by British parliament and it has yet to make a treaty on equal terms (without trickery, fraud, coercion, and duress) with First Nations.


Simon, R. (1987). Empowerment as a pedagogy of possibility. Language arts, Vol. 64, No. 4, The Issues That Divide Us (April 1987), pp. 370-382. National Council of Teachers of English, 374.

Windschitl, M. (2002). Framing constructivism in practice as the negotiation of dilemmas: An analysis of the conceptual, pedagogical, cultural, and political challenges facing teachers. Review of Educational Research, 72 (2), 131-175.