By the end of November, over 900 SJASD students will have filed into an exhibit space at Bruce Middle School to get a close look at a replica of The Witness Blanket, a national monument recognizing the atrocities of the Indian residential school era.
The original art installation, created by master carver Carey Newman, is a touring exhibit managed by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and features hundreds of items reclaimed from residential schools, churches, government buildings and other structures across Canada. The replica is a high resolution picture of the intricate panels and travels across the country to engage the public in conversations about the importance of Reconciliation.
Stacy Kent is the Principal of Jameswood Alternative School. A number of her staff and students visited the exhibit on November 1st. Knowledge Keeper Richelle North Star Scott facilitated the session, providing activities and cultural guidance for attendees.
“It was an opportunity to connect with one another about the vulnerability of the human condition and consider our individual and collective responsibilities to care for ourselves and one another," says Stacy.
Students were able to examine the artwork, make connections to various components, share their thoughts and opinions, and ask critical questions.
Stacy says the experience was somber, but necessary. “By confronting the uncomfortable truths of history, Jameswood students will be better equipped to contribute to a future marked by compassion, respect, and a genuine understanding of the diverse experiences that make up Canadian society," she says.
Kyle Lizotte is the Principal of Lincoln Middle School. “All of our homerooms will be visiting the Witness Blanket exhibit," he says.
On November 9, a Grade 6 class took in the exhibit. “Today was [their] turn to visit the exhibit and learn about the impact of residential schools in Canada through discussion, song, interaction and reflection," he says.
April Waters is the SJASD Administrator of Indigenous Education & Community Support. She says the response from the school community has been very strong. “Witness Blanket sessions were booked solid within four days. It's amazing. We have tonnes of classes that are walking over from various schools. George Waters is busing all of their Grade 6s over to come visit it. We have a French Immersion World Issues class from Sturgeon coming to see it."
Sessions for the Public
SJASD has been holding public sessions for the community throughout November to take in this powerful installation.
“It's not always accessible [for community members] to get to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights when it is on display. Bringing it to our community free of charge to learn from is pretty incredible," says April.
The next SJASD sessions are as follows:
- Saturday, November 18, 2023 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Thursday, November 23, 2023 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Two sessions have taken place so far and the response has been positive. About 35 people came out to a weekend session in early November.
“We received lots of really good feedback," says April, adding that many community members have been inspired to visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to observe the original the next time it is on display (the current original Witness Blanket is travelling across the country until at least October 5, 2024 and is not currently on display at the museum).
For more information on the Witness Blanket, check out SJASD's public exhibit poster or visit the CMHR website.
(Pictured above, top to bottom): Knowledge Keeper Elder Richelle North Star Scott leads a session with students; Grade 6 students from Lincoln Middle School attend a session with North Star Scott.