Residential schools through a child’s eyes

Survivors' art on display, brings communities together

Museum patrons look upon a wall of sketches featured at the exhibit. Photo Gina Rogers
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Reported by Gina Rogers

There is Truth Here: Creativity and Resilience in Children’s Art from Indian Residential and Day Schools is on view at the Museum of Vancouver and has a history of survival itself, said Dr. Andrea Walsh.

Dr. Walsh has worked with the museum and the Osoyoos Indian Band for almost 20 years on just the Inkameep Day School portion of the exhibit. The rest of the exhibit was done in collaboration with survivors and their families from the Alberni Indian Residential School,  and the MacKay Indian Residential School in Manitoba. The section of St. Michaels art was on loan from the U’Mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay.

Since September, the museum has seen upwards of 25,000 visitors, including 2,000 students. Dr. Walsh estimates that the numbers have risen since then.

Collection of tradition and oppression

For There is Truth Here, MOV’s Curator of Indigenous Collections and Engagement, Sharon M. Fortney, PhD., “incorporated pieces from the MOV collection” and “added a section about schools that local First Nations attended.”

One piece from the Alberni Indian Residential School, “Pulling out Hair”, hangs with a bundle of traditional white sage above the frame. This dried plant is considered sacred in many cultures and is thought to have protective properties in ceremony.

Curators took the advice of Tsleil-Waututh community members when dealing with the children’s art. Fortney said that one of the members brushed down the gallery with cedar before the artwork was installed. This would have prepared the museum space to hold the art, which may harbour negative energy from these notorious schools.

A community effort

One attendee knew of the primary Inkameep Day School in Okanagan, but didn’t know of the other collections from Alert Bay, Vancouver Island and Manitoba.

“It was really exciting to see those and to learn how this has been such a community effort in terms of integrating the community voice back into the exhibit”, Julia Harrison said.

The MOV installation features a beaded dress made of leather, worn by an 8 year old student who is now 88 years of age.
There is Truth Here is on exhibit until Jan. 5, 2020.

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