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Local artist beautifies space with mesmerizing mural

Mackenzie Brown (Kamamak) stands in front of her mural, titled “We Are Still Here,” that she painted on the Jasper Yellowhead Museum and Archives. | J.Stockfish photos

Jason Stockfish |

Where once stood a blank concrete wall, Indigenous artist Mackenzie Brown (Kamamak) created her vibrant and heartfelt mural titled “We Are Still Here.”

On July 31, before a crowd of mesmerized onlookers, Brown unveiled her stunning piece on an outside wall of the Jasper Yellowhead Museum and Archives.

The piece includes a variety of vivid colours and symbols important to Brown, including plant life, a teepee, a handprint, wildlife footprints and intriguing geometric shapes and designs.

“Something that I love about Jasper as a community is the people, so each of the plants in the mural are from memories that I have with people,” Brown said.

“Plants and land connect us to people and that connects us to place.”

For instance, one of the flora depicted in the mural, a strawberry, was inspired by a climb the artist and a friend went on at Watchtower, she explained.

In the middle of her mural, Brown painted a distinct teepee, and on either side of it are triangular shapes that one could see as mountains or teepees, which was Brown’s intent when designing her work.

“It comes back to the idea of land and place and people, and that you can’t disconnect one from the others,” she said.

When viewing the mural, admirers will notice a shape found throughout is the circle, which holds a deep meaning for Brown and Indigenous peoples.

“Everything happens in a circle. Ceremonies are in circles. Sharing is done in circles. The sun and the moon are circles,” Brown said.

“And it’s that community coming together – that (idea of) nobody’s ahead of one another. Everyone’s seen as being equals.”

From the left: Warrior Women Laurisa Orich, Theresa Westhaver, Matricia Bauer and Mackenzie Brown perform traditional songs at the unveiling of Brown’s mural, “We Are Still Here.”

Also found in her piece are the footprints of four animals: the bear, the eagle, the bison and the wolf, which are the four sacred animals in Cree culture that offer important teachings, the artist noted.

Brown explained that her mural uses distinct lines and geometric shapes in a nod to Indigenous beadwork that tends to be very geometric but she also consciously contrasted these with elements that aren’t linear.

“Because that’s how life is as well, so I like to have these different contrasts in my own work.”

The colour scheme Brown used to express herself in her work is that of a rainbow, which possesses important themes for her. 

“I use a lot of rainbows in my work,” she said.

“One, for inclusivity, and two, it represents the Northern Lights to me and the colours we see in them.”

For Indigenous communities, the aurora borealis represents their ancestors dancing in the afterlife, Brown said.

“We know that they’re safe up there having a little powwow in the sky, so that’s why I always include them.”

Brown’s Cree name is Kamamak, which means butterfly, and another reason why she uses a mixture of such vibrant colours is to stay true to her name, she noted.

The final piece of the mural that she chose to paint was the orange handprint.

This symbol is used by the Every Child Matters campaign, which is of significant relevance to Brown, having inspired the name of her mural. 

When Brown speaks of “We Are Still Here,” she means that Indigenous people, their cultures and their ceremonies still remain on these traditional lands.

“That handprint really represents that, and it represents those who we’ve lost and future generations as well.”

When asked about the power of public art, Brown said that for her it is an artist’s ability to “change space.”

“Art has the ability to completely change the way you interact with an area, and we are inspired by the art around us, and I think that that is so beautiful,” she added.

“I am excited to take what I love about Jasper and put it into a piece.”

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