‘Every cultural landscape has a story’: New Monfwi mural unveiled during Treaty 11 celebrations in Behchokǫ̀

Chocolate and Gelderman unveiling the new mural in Behchokǫ̀. (Mariah Caruso/CKLB)

Hundreds gathered to remember former Chief Monfwi as his legacy took centre stage at the treaty 11 celebrations in Behchokǫ̀ earlier this month.

Monfwi is recognized as a founding father for the Tłı̨chǫ people and nation as he helped sign the treaty over 100 years ago.

He was honoured and memorialized with a re-enactment ceremony of his voyage into Behchokǫ̀ from Whatì, a  pop-up museum exhibit on the history and a detailed mural in his image.

Chocolate used his own hand as a reference point in completing the mural. (Mariah Caruso/CKLB)

Darrell Chocolate is a 38-year-old, self-taught artist originally from Gamètì, now living in Yellowknife and he decided to put a special spin on an old archival photo of the beloved chief.

“It was a little nerve-wracking, unveiling it in front of the Tłı̨chǫ Nation,” he says.

After noticing the reference images of Monfwi were missing pieces of his hand, he got to work.

He decided to fill in the gaps by putting a little piece of himself into the painting, he says, “part of that painting is my hand.”

Chocolate says it took him 120 hours to complete the mural.

He says, painting portraits is easy; it’s the rich northern landscapes and their waters that are challenging.

“Just a lot of brushes, a lot of foliage. It’s just hard to capture, especially water,” he admits.

Chocolate says he learned a lot during this project, about the treaty, himself and his culture.

“(I) learned how to respect our culture and to learn more stories about the land, especially that monument behind the chief’s head.”

“It’s a sacred site for the Tłı̨chǫ people,” he says.

He’s referencing Mesa lake, as two pillars are seen forged together at the top of the image. This was made to represent the site where the Akaitcho people and Edzo made peace, a time before Monfwi.

“I try to tell my stories through artwork,” he says.

He remembers his father telling him,” every cultural landscape has a story. And every lake has a name associated with that story.”

Chocolate was honoured by the opportunity to be a part of history and to contribute his work in this way.

Chocolate recognized as a ‘culture keeper’

Karen Gelderman is the arts and cultural facilitator with the Tłı̨chǫ Government and she helped organize the event, in addition to this mural project.

Chocolate actually proposed the project to Gelderman.

“What I enjoyed about working with Darrell is that it meant a lot to him,” she says, “he’s definitely one of those cultural keepers and promoters.”

The plan, she says, is for the mural to be displayed at the new cultural centre once completed.

For now, the painting sits at the Kǫ̀ Gocho Sportsplex Centre.

Residents, chiefs and dignitaries from all over the NWT came together to commemorate 101 years since the signing with bannock making, duck plucking, fish frying and other cultural activities. Festivities went late into the night as drum dances and fire-feeding ceremonies also took place.

Chocolate says it took him 3 months to finish this project. (Mariah Caruso/CKLB)

The celebration closed with a highly coveted hand games tournament.

About the Author

Mariah Caruso
Mariah Caruso is a digital journalist, originally from Toronto, Canada. She graduated from the University of Toronto with a Hons. Bachelor of Arts and completed her Journalism post-grad at Sheridan College. She has an insatiable appetite for life, storytelling, connecting to the people, and getting to the heart of the issue. Mariah is excited to begin her journey and career in Yellowknife, NWT, and get involved with the community. If you have a story idea, feel free to send her an email at mariah.caruso@cklbradio.com