A new mural outside The University of Winnipeg’s Duckworth Centre pays homage to two Indigenous role models and UWinnipeg Wesmen athletes.
Located on the wall connecting the Duckworth Centre to the Axworthy Health and RecPlex, the mural features Wesmen basketball players Robyn Boulanger and Josh Gandier, standouts both on and off the court. The mural was contributed by Higher Learning Foundation (HLF) and painted by Emmanuel Jarus, who said it was an honour to highlight two individuals who are great achievers and mentors in the campus and surrounding communities.
“As an Indigenous woman, I am extremely proud to be a role model for other young Indigenous athletes,” said Boulanger, who has long been involved in building the Indigenous basketball community through her family’s Anishinaabe Pride program. “I know for both Josh and I, being leaders and advocates for the Indigenous community is one of our biggest goals. I hope this mural project will show every indigenous athlete who steps into the Duckworth Centre that it is possible to take their game to the next level.”
UWinnipeg alum Trisha Kulathungam, founder and executive director of HLF, sees the mural as an opportunity to support and promote reconciliation while showcasing Indigenous leaders. Her hope is the mural can represent inclusion and act as a reminder to cultivate an environment of diversity, inclusivity, and respect.
As an organization, HLF strives to nurture students’ mental fitness and wellness through the creation of widely available mental fitness training. The organization also provides scholarship opportunities to post-secondary students through its Mental Fitness and Professional Development scholarships. In recent years, HLF has also contributed to projects similar to the Duckworth Centre mural which brighten and liven the community, including a local art mentorship program and the 2018 Paint the Peg initiative, which saw the creation of graffiti and murals in the Exchange District.
HLF’s message of mental fitness struck a chord with both Boulanger and Gandier. “As student athletes, we face many obstacles when it comes to mental health,” Boulanger said. “This could be from high expectations to perform the best we can, stress, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, et cetera. Especially when injuries occur, it could make a huge impact on how our mind works and getting back to play.”
Gandier, who has in the past helped run a free basketball camp for children in Winnipeg’s North End, echoed Boulanger’s sentiment about balancing life as a student athlete and added mental health can be an at-times uncomfortable subject to broach.
“Throughout my career and during the pandemic I have struggled with mental health,” Gandier said. “I have also lost family members to mental illness. This is why I am honoured and proud to be a part of this project with the Higher Learning Foundation, because this organization is about equipping students with tools and resources to improve their mental wellness.”