Witness Blanket returns to Victoria

Wood-based structure contains 887 objects from 77 communities across Canada

Fernwood artist Carey Newman explains some of the artifacts on the Witness Blanket to B.C. Lieutenant Governoe of B.C.

When First Nations artist Carey Newman first came up with the idea for a Witness Blanket more than four years ago, he never imagined he’d still be on the emotional journey.

Already an artist following the traditions of his Kwagliuth culture, Newman was called upon to create a commemorative national monument to mark the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission — established by the federal government in 2008 with a five-year mandate of informing all Canadians about what happened at Indian Residential Schools.

Gathering pieces of the schools, government buildings, churches and other related artifacts such as severed braids of hair, moccasins, old-fashioned skates and photographs, Newman created a 40-foot long, eight-foot tall, wood-based structure containing 887 objects from 77 communities across Canada. Some spaces were left empty to honour the children who never came home.

After two years of travelling through communities across Canada, the Witness Blanket (inspired by a woven blanket), has now come back to Victoria for the upcoming visit of Prince William and his wife Kate. Newman still gets emotional whenever he talks about the journey.

“It’s brought me closer to my family. My dad’s told us more and more about his time at residential schools and I have a better understanding of him and therefore I have a better understanding of me. If that happens for a few other families or individuals who take part or come and see the blanket, then I think that’s what the whole thing’s about,” said Newman, noting the tour will continue for the next five years.

The pieces that resinate with him most are in a box that has a piece of the apple tree from the orchard of the school his father went to, along with braids from his sister, who cut her hair in honour of her father and the children who had to cut off their braids in order to attend school.

“It’s been a very emotional journey and it continues to be. I keep thinking that eventually I’ll get to a point where I’ve seen or heard everything, but every time I go to a new city or town to talk about the blanket, I meet somebody who has a story.”

Indian Residential Schools date back to the 1870s, with more than 130 located across the country at one point, the last one closing in 1996. More than 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children were taken from their families and placed in the government-funded, church run schools. Many were forbidden to speak their language and practice their own culture. Some also suffered emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

The tour of the Witness Blanket was first launched in Victoria in 2014. Some of the stops included a stay in Ottawa during the closing ceremony of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and an exhibit at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Last week, the blanket was installed at Government House where it will privately be on display for the royal couple’s visit to Victoria Sept. 24, Sept. 29 and Oct. 1. Following their stay, the blanket will be moved to Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo for the rest of the year.

So far, Newman said the response to the Witness Blanket has varied.

“A lot of the impact that it has is amongst people who didn’t know before about residential schools…I think it creates a different kind of access point for us to open the conversation around reconciliation,” said Newman, who lives in Fernwood. “Our hope is people from every community across the country join us by standing witness to this important part of Canadian history. We, as a country, need to collectively honour the survivors, remember the children who were lost and find a better way to move forward.”

 

 

Just Posted

UPDATE: West Shore RCMP reunite camera with owner

Police sought public’s help to identify people photographed on the camera with record-time results

Beware of geese: Nesting season may trigger aggressive behaviour

Greater Victoria residents will have to be wary of nesting geese in the area

Greater Victoria leaders coming together to talk diversity and equity

Royal Road University’s Inclusion Project engages community stakeholders from public, private sectors

Royal B.C. Museum faces space, seismic standards and accessibilty issues; calls for public input

People can share their ideas online and in person from April 1 to June 27

British Columbians are paying more for booze but also broccoli

Victoria’s inflation was 2.3 per cent, a tick above Vancouver’s of 2.2 per cent

Victoria hosts ‘Ultimate Hockey Fan Cave’

The hockey cave was recently featured on a Netflix special

Howard the giant gnome finds new home on Vancouver Island

Iconic attraction will move from Nanoose Bay to Galey Farms in Saanich

Harbour Air to convert to all-electric seaplanes

Seaplane company to modify fleet with a 750-horsepower electric motor

Sailings cancelled after BC Ferries boat hits Langdale terminal

The Queen of Surrey is stuck on the dock, causing delays to Horseshoe Bay trips

Is it a homicide? B.C. woman dies in hospital, seven months after being shot

Stepfather think Chilliwack case should now be a homicide, but IHIT has not confirmed anything

SPCA seizes 54 animals from Vernon property

Animals weren’t receiving adequate care

Morneau unveils principles for Indigenous ownership in Trans Mountain pipeline

The controversial pipeline was bought by Ottawa last year

Refugee who sheltered Edward Snowden in Hong Kong arrives in Canada

Vanessa Rodel and her seven-year-old daughter Keana arrived in Toronto this week

New UMSCA trade deal getting a boost from Trump, business groups

The trade deal is designed to supplant the North American Free Trade Agreement

Most Read