The Museum Column

cultural intelligence, exhibit reviews, museum news

“100 Years of Loss”: residential schools for Aboriginal people in Canada

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I was watching a documentary about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on CBC’s The National last month. The program covered a hearing of the Commission in Vancouver from September 18th to 21st, noting that education is one of the Commission’s key roles. In the background of some footage taken at the hearing, I noticed an exhibition. I have since discovered that the exhibition, called 100 Years of Loss – The Residential School System in Canada, was created by the Legacy of Hope Foundation.

100 Years of Loss -- The Residential School System in Canada.  Displayed at the Ottawa Carleton District School Board, Ottawa, 15 to 25 October 2013.  Copyright Legacy of Hope Foundation, 2013.  Photo by Tania Budgell.

100 Years of Loss — The Residential School System in Canada. Displayed at the Ottawa Carleton District School Board, Ottawa, 15 to 25 October 2013. Copyright Legacy of Hope Foundation, 2013. Photo by Tania Budgell.

It interweaves personal stories of residential schools with archival images and has travelled across Canada to many venues, including other places where The Commission has held hearings. Seeing 100 Years of Loss led me to wonder if other exhibitions are helping to make the tragic story of residential schools better known? The answer to that question is “yes”.

This past summer the McCord Museum, working with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, created Honouring Memory – Canada’s Residential Schools. It was shown outside the museum, on McGill College Avenue, from June 19 to October 20, 2013. The media release for the exhibit was clear about the impetus for the project:

This exhibit of archival photographs recalls the fate of thousands of Aboriginal children, who willingly or by force, grew up in residential schools intended to eradicate all traces of their culture. … By honouring these stories, the Museum is taking part in the process of healing and reconciliation initiated by the Commission.

Honouring Memory -- Canada's Residential Schools.  Photo credit: Marilyn Aitken, McCord Museum

Honouring Memory — Canada’s Residential Schools. Photo credit: Marilyn Aitken, McCord Museum

Although the exhibit is now closed, if you would like to know more about Honouring Memory – Canada’s Residential Schools, the McCord Museum has posted the text and photographs from each exhibit panel here.

Other exhibitions about residential schools and their impacts are currently on view in at the University of British Columbia. One is called Speaking to Memory: Images and Voices from St. Michael’s Residential School and can be seen at the University’s Museum of Anthropology until March 2nd 2014. This exhibit presents images recently donated to the Museum by one of the St. Michael’s Residential School’s students. As the Museum’s website notes “The photos provide a rare and moving glimpse of residential school life through the eyes of students as they made a life for themselves away from families and home communities.”

The University is also currently presenting an exhibition of contemporary art at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery. Witness: Art and Canada’s Indian Residential Schools features artists from British Columbia and across Canada including artists who directly experienced Indian residential schools as well as those who are witnesses to their residual impact.

Lisa Jackson, Savage, 2009.  Production still from video.  From the exhibition "Witnesses: Art and Canada's Indian Residential Schools", Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, University of British Columbia (September 6-December 1, 2012).

Lisa Jackson, Savage, 2009. Production still from video. From the exhibition “Witnesses: Art and Canada’s Indian Residential Schools”, Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, University of British Columbia (September 6-December 1, 2012).

Witness is accompanied by a second installation, this one in the University’s Walter C. Koerner Library, a work by artist Cathy Busby called We are Sorry 2013.

The history of Canada’s residential schools for Aboriginal people is heartbreaking. The work of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee is continuing and public exhibitions make a contribution to building awareness.

Author: Christine Lockett

The principal of Christine Lockett Associates: Cultural Intelligence, I bring senior management experience to consulting services for museums and galleries. With The Museum Column blog I will be discussing interesting public programs, mainly exhibits, and the changing relationships among museums and the public realm.

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