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The Original Family mural by Indigenous artist Philip Cote graces USW District 6 office

September 16, 2022
District 6 Director Myles Sullivan and Indigenous artist Philip Cote standing in front of a mural

USW District 6 is honoured to display Indigenous artist Philip Cote’s mural, The Original Family, at the district’s main office in Toronto.

Thank you to Philip Cote and Mel Coleman, who assisted the artist on this project, for this beautiful mural that will be appreciated and admired for years to come. You can find Philip’s work through his website, Facebook and Instagram.

Below is the story behind the mural, in the artist’s own words.

The Original Family                                                          

It is a depiction of one of our oldest stories, The Ojibway/Anishinaabe Creation Story which was brought down through oral traditions and pictographic images painted on birch-bark scrolls. This mural is in my own Contemporary Style of Woodland Painting and begins with The First Man and The First Woman and their sacred union and the beginning of The Creation Story.

It is said that The First Man (Waynaboozhoo) came down from the sky and was lowered and the first thing he did was to travel across the land and began naming everything, all the plants, all the trees, all the animals, all the insects, all the fish, and all the birds, etc. The Ojibway/Anishinaabe Elders say this is where our naming ceremony came from and this is also where our Ojibway/Anishinaabe language comes from. This is why all the animals have gathered around The First Man and The First Woman as a reminder of how our story is closely connected to all life on Earth.

The next thing The First Man is asked to do by The Creator is to travel to the Fire Keeper in the East and learn about The Sacred Fire and all its connections to the heart and to the Universe and in doing so he meets the Fire Keeper’s Daughter who we now know as The Morning Star. It is their sacred union that is the beginning of humanity here on Turtle Island.

The otter is the helper who brought the teachings of the four directions and knowledge of what we know today as the Medicine Wheel Teachings. The deer represents the hoofed beings and the teacher of the forest and the teacher of the children. The birds are reminders of spiritual connections to our hearts (our Sacred Fire) and to the Universe. The raven is here to remember the trickster and that not everything can always go as planned, the wolf represents the brother of first man, the buffalo is regarded as a nation in the animal kingdom and the beaver becomes a symbol of wisdom and creator of our water system in North America, the turtle is leader of the fish clan but also a symbol of Turtle Island, and the marten is the sign of the warrior clan and protector of the nation. Last is the bear, a reminder that we are in changing times of which our prophets predicted as The Seven Fires Prophecy.

The prophets also gave us teachings about The Eighth Fire, a time we are now in. It is said that in this time our stories and ancient wisdom will come to the surface and be shared with the western peoples and a new beginning will happen called The Eighth Fire. A new people will emerge together with our nation and it will become the most powerful nation and this marks the beginning of The Golden Age. There is a symbol on the faces of the animals its paw like and represents the trail of life and the animal kingdom. Last but most importantly is the story about the beginning of the universe.

The Anishinaabe have occupied this land for tens of thousands of years, creating a land-based pedagogy to communicate with the flora and fauna and beyond to the stars.

The woodland designs are deeply connected to the creation story of the Anishinaabe as this design with all its black lines speaks about the beginning of the Universe. There are designs within the animals that represent the two worlds – the physical and spiritual – and the heart can be seen running through the middle of these two worlds representing “Heart Thinking” – our way of navigating between these worlds is the best way to live in order to leave a legacy for future generations.

In the beginning there was a Great Black Void and in that void there was a spirit who sent out thoughts into the Universe. When no response happened, those thoughts were called back and the spirit-being said, “Create light in the Universe as you come back to me.” All the stars were born and from them planets were formed. At that moment we had light and dark in the Universe, for Anishinaabe people believe we are all made of light and dark, the physical and the spiritual –that’s where the phrase comes from, “We are all related.”

Philip H. Cote, MFA
Young Spiritual Elder
Artist, Activist, Sacred Knowledge Keeper & Historian


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