Indigenous Reconciliation Artworks in Council Chambers

As part of the Municipality's ongoing commitment towards reconciliation, Indigenous Reconciliation Artworks in Council Chambers acknowledges Indigenous Peoples as the original stewards of the land. 

To ensure the voices and perspectives of Indigenous Peoples were at the forefront of the design process, the Circle of Knowledge and Artistic Expression—Elders, Knowledge Keepers and Creatives designated by First Nation and Métis communities within Wood Buffalo—guided the selected artist: Fort McKay First Nation painter, poet and photographer Frederick McDonald.  

The Elders and Knowledge Keepers, many of whom are residential and day school survivors, shared difficult truths with the artist as he developed design concepts. The artworks also represent their shared history, traditions, love for nature and include a nod to the contemporary influence of a hopeful future generation.

A Talking Stick is an additional piece included in Council Chambers. This piece was created by Elder Shirley Arthurs and honours the sharing circle process used to achieve consensus on artist selection and design concepts. A common thread within all the pieces is the Seven Sacred Teachings of Honesty, Love, Truth, Humility, Wisdom, Courage, and Respect.

The following artworks have been installed in Council Chambers. The descriptions accompanying them are provided by the artist.

True North

Acrylic on canvas, 120” x 50”, 2022

Photo of True North artwork by Frederick McDonald

Elders drum while 3 generations of women dancers dance. The animals in the sky represent the 7 sacred teachings: love (Eagle), honesty (Raven), humility (Wolf), courage (Bear), wisdom (Beaver), truth (Turtle), and respect (Bison). The symbols in the ground that we stand on is a narrative of our past – references (left to right) how we lived off and with the land and the animals, but along came the residential institutions of the governments and churches, ripping apart our families, eventually leading us all here to today and to our search for self and for re-discovery of who we are as a people. With the help of Aboriginal spirituality, today we live strong in our communities and we celebrate all the things that make us who we are with old traditions, along with the help of newly adapted cultural experiences.



Acrylic on canvas, 72” x 24”, 2022

Photo of Teachings artwork by Frederick McDonald

Our youth learn about our culture through modern methods, like searching the world-wide web, while Elders continue to teach through proven methods of the drum and the stories that accompany their songs. The girl reads about the residential school beside a picture of how some of our people utilized the train to go from their trap lines into town and in the middle background, there is a reference to our past mode of transportation. All these parts speak of our shared histories. The Thunderbird is our connection to the spirit world, painted stylistically with a red dress symbolizing our murdered and missing women and girls. But, in spite of it all and of all the generations of colonial pressures we are still strong peoples – growing stronger through understanding!


Spirits Having Flown - Series 1, 2 & 3

Acrylic on canvas, 12” x 60”, 2022

Each time people walk through the door to enter or egress Council Chambers, they do so while walking through the symbols of the 7 Sacred Teachings. At the bottom of the side paintings are symbols for the Sacred Pipe and Sage with the colours of the 4 directions of both the Dene and the Cree people. The Pipe is not burning tobacco represents how some of our cultural things have been taken away, but the Sage burns representing that we have started along our own healing paths.

Reconciliation is not just an Aboriginal thing; we all have to do this together, no matter what walk of life you live in and come from. Reconciliation is about all of us!

Photo of Spirits Having Flown artwork by Frederick McDonald

About the Artist: Frederick McDonald

Photo of Artist Frederick R. McDonaldFrederick R. McDonald is an artist and a member of the Fort McKay First Nation. Frederick followed his dream to be an artist by attending the University of Calgary, graduating with a Master of Fine Arts degree in 2001. While in university, he took on many challenges such as president of the First Nations Student Association and by participating in other organizations like the Rainforest Action Group and the Committee Against Racism, giving him insights to different ways of seeing.

Frederick was born in Fort McMurray and raised in the bush along the Athabasca River and was brought up in the traditional hunting and trapping lifestyle of his parents. A way of life that still lives inside him.

Despite traveling all over the world, Fred's heart is still with his community. He’s had many roles over the years and found personal satisfaction as the Fort McKay Treaty Days coordinator and as the ATC Regional Gathering director. Always a leader, Fred served as the President of the Northern Alberta Aboriginal Business Association, and has also had many board appointments including the Fort McMurray United Way.

As the CEO of the Fort McKay Group of Companies for 4 years, beginning this posting in 2008, he learned how to use his left brain more efficiently and says he saw firsthand how the corporate environment dynamics work. This adds another level of thinking when it comes to artistic perspectives.

Frederick has returned to being an artist; it's where his heart has always been. He has had many exhibitions across Canada and has been collected by individuals and corporations from all parts of the world, including many institutions like the Glenbow Museum, The Alberta Arts Foundation, and the Government of Canada.

Fred loves painting, but has also taken to poetry and photography equally. Being an artist he says he has an esoteric relationship with the cosmos, but mainly... art is life!