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This is artist Michael Rilstone’s portrait of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine. He departed from his usual monochromatic style of black, white, and shades of grey to add a watery eye and two tear drops in blue.

It is called “One Trillion Tears” to represent the full struggle First Nations People have faced on Turtle Island, not only for the Missing & Murdered Aboriginal Women, of which Tina is one of the latest, but also for all of the colonial struggles so bravely faced by Aboriginal People since their lives were forever broken by White Man’s arrival in 1492.

The 500+ years have been a litany of slaughter and abuse.

In Canada, Native children were relegated to Residential Schools where they were murdered and sexually abused. Currently, they are facing genocide in Alberta as the Tar Sands tailing ponds have been leaking cancer-causing substances into their food chain and water for over a decade.

And colonialism continues worse than ever in Canada! In 2015, apparently the Harper Government will now pass a law declaring any Native exercising his or her right under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, speaking out against the environmental damage being done to their lands, water and game to be terrorists; criminalized and punished with severe penalties.

Tina’s body was discovered on August 17, 2014 floating in Winnipeg, Manitoba’s Red River, wrapped in plastic. She was only 15 years old.

Winnipeg’s Police Sgt. John O’Donovan stated on television, “This is a child that’s been murdered. I think society would be horrified if someone put a litter of kittens or pups in the river in this condition. This is a child. She has been in this city for barely a month, exploited, murdered and put in the river in this condition.”

When Prime Minister Harper was asked what will be done, he replied, “… it isn’t really high on our radar, to be honest.”

It is time Canadians understand the direct relationship between such racist comments by Canada’s Prime Minister to the very first Native slaughtered by white men on their arrival in the “New World.” It is all contiguous and must stop!

We are all members of the human race, in this together. We must all keep talking to stop the travesty. Every human is my neighbour and deserves as much respect and dignity as the next, be it they are homeless or live on everyone else’s dime at 24 Sussex in Ottawa.

Tina’s two tears, and a third quickly forming in her eye, represent half a millennium of abuse; or “One Trillion Tears”.

In the song “Where have all the Flowers Gone?” activist Joan Baez sings three lines which so suits this Canadian crisis:
Where have all the young girls gone, long time passing?
Where have all the young girls gone, long time ago?
Where have all the young girls gone?

In his painting “One Trillion Tears” Rilstone wants to state, “All of the racism and abuses must finally stop. NOW!”

Or as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Let’s start talking. All of us. 

About the Artist and “One Trillion Tears”

Mike_RilstoneAt age 59, Michael Rilstone lost his eyesight, blinded by the loss of a retina in his left eye. Additionally, his right retina was torn. To compound it all, he acquired a virus that left him completely blind for weeks.

After seven operations and forced to lie on his stomach for five months, he was left legally blind with double vision, and with no three dimensional ability.

It was a very depressing period as faced with the possibility of completely losing his eyesight played heavily on his mind.
Then out of the blue, at age 62, Rilstone began to paint. He had never painted or drawn before and even his own family did not know he could even draw.

Unfortunately he was soon frustrated and almost quit because, with no depth perception, he had no idea where the brush was in relation to the canvas.

Becoming inventive, he soon found he could manage by adding one drop of paint at a time with a toothpick, all done through a strong draftsman-type magnifying lamp.

He generally uses canvases 18” by 24” which take anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 single drops of paint to create one picture. Each painting takes an average of two months to complete, from initial sketch to the final painting.

Rilstone explains, “At first I tried scenery, buildings and landscapes but it did not turn me on. I was bored. However, in the back of my mind there was one painting that had forever intrigued me: Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Munroe. One day, by chance, I saw Nicki Minaj. I had no idea who she was but thought, there’s my Marilyn! With all her makeup and orange hair she looked like a unique face to try, so I decided to try painting her as my first portrait. I found that bringing a person to life on a white canvas was both very moving and exciting, so I had found my niche: portraits!”

Because it takes so long to do just one painting, Rilstone knew he would never produce many and refined his subject matter. He decided to paint people who have, in some way, been an influence in his life.

“It could be their philosophy, music, a speech or something they have done to better mankind in some way. My gallery will be the Who’s Who of great people, at least to me.”

In choosing to paint Tina Fontaine, Rilstone went outside his general subject criteria.

He says, “I am a Dad. In August, 2014 when I heard of Tina’s death and how she died I was broken-hearted and profoundly upset. Then when I head our country’s leader had stated that Missing & Murdered Native Women was an issue not even on his government’s radar, my sorrow was compounded with anger. I felt I had to paint Tina’s beautiful image to express how I felt, not only for the cause of murdered Native Women, but also for all colonialism experienced by First Nations People since 1492 on Turtle Island. I was deeply moved to paint her portrait in a way in which I hoped it would convey 500+ years of genocide and racism. I believe the resulting symbolism, my portrait of Tina done in my usual monochromatic style, with the exception of a blue watery eye and two blue tears running down her cheeks, sends out this heartfelt message loud and clear: stop the racism.”

“One Trillion Tears” represents the countless Native tears shed since colonialism started in 1492.

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