Canadian museums struggle with the history of boarding schools


Last month, the Canadian Museum of History announced that It will cancel Canada Day celebrations After unmarked graves were found in former boarding school locations across the country-this was one of a series of adjustments made after the traumatic discovery.

The museum in Gatineau, Quebec, said in an email to CBC News that other changes it plans to make include signs detailing the history and continuing influence of the boarding school, warnings about the content of exhibits covering the subject, and its content A comprehensive review.

CBC News contacted more than a dozen museums across the country and asked them how to solve the remaining problems of Canadian boarding schools.

The museum’s response varied: some pointed to long-term exhibits on display in consultation with indigenous communities, others held ceremonies to commemorate boarding school victims and survivors, and still others said they had long-term plans to solve the problem.

But a daunting task lies ahead: how can museums better tell the story of our country in a way that accurately reflects the role of Canadian institutions in destroying indigenous lives and communities through the boarding school system?

CBC News interviewed an Aboriginal artist and executives from two major Canadian museums to understand the upcoming changes and what they mean for reconciliation.

The CEO of the Human Rights Museum says that great art reflects who we are

Isha Khan is the CEO of the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. Last year, she took over the position after the museum came under fire for racism, homophobia, sexism, and censorship. (Gary Solilac/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

Isha Khan, CEO of the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, said the role of the museum has changed, from displaying artifacts to amplifying sounds and stories.

Regarding the topic of boarding schools, the institution currently exhibits a piece called Witness blanket, It was exhibited there for the first time in December 2015.

This is a wooden “quilt” made by indigenous artist and engraver Kyrie Newman. It aims to record the boarding school experience through a series of survivors, former school sites, government buildings and churches.

“I call it truth,” Khan said of the artwork. “I think what we learned is that art is powerful. Great art captures who we are and where we have been.

“You have a very deep respect for it, because it is more than just an artifact… it’s a part of someone’s life, their family history, something full of emotions.”

In August of last year, Khan was appointed to the post of CEO. An external report found There is “universal and systematic” racism and content censorship in the museum.Another report Only released last month Outlines allegations of abuse and fetishism by racialized male employees, especially black men, when working for the agency.

Khan said that because museums capture historical narratives and memories, these institutions have the potential to determine how we deal with the dark parts of the country’s history and how we shape our national identity based on these realities.

“We are a storytelling platform,” she said. “If you look at it this way, we have unlimited potential to educate, define our identity as a society at any point in time, and then make sure we have a memory of where we came from.

“We have a lot of work to do, because before we move forward, you know, you talk about the road to reconciliation. We need to know the truth about us – but we don’t.”

The RCMP Museum plans to negotiate with the Aboriginal community

Tara Robinson is the newly appointed chief executive officer of the RCMP Heritage Center. (Richard Agkutai/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

The newly appointed chief executive officer Tara Robinson said that the Regina RCMP Heritage Center has not updated its exhibits for several years. But as it seeks the designation of the National Museum, this situation will change.

Robinson said: “There are many stories, some with national pride, some with grand celebration.” “But others with sadness and some collective sadness— [an example being] Boarding schools across the country…We believe these stories need to be told. “

The museum plans to tell the history of the RCMP from multiple angles, including the history of Aboriginal communities.In the age of boarding schools, the National Police Force responsible for Forcibly remove children from their families and homes so that they can be sent to school.

Robinson told CBC News: “I firmly believe that museums are here for education, and they are for educating good, bad and other knowledge.”

The RCMP Heritage Center in Regina will receive 4.5 million Canadian dollars in funding from the federal government when seeking national designation. (Richard Agkutai/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

In May, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Heritage Center announced that it would be transformed into a national museum, and the federal government would provide 4.5 million Canadian dollars in funding over three years.Steve McClellan, chairman of the board, said This funding will enable the museum More contact with indigenous communities than in the past.

However, he also said that the current exhibits Minimize references The dark history between the Canadian Mounted Police and Aboriginal communities.

In the same month, data released by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police showed that 102 members were identified as Aboriginal Left the army in the past three years, After Congressman Matthew Green requested the number.

Robinson said that now, the RCMP Heritage Center has the opportunity—and has the responsibility—to build relationships with the Aboriginal communities and work with them to historicize the National Police Force.

“Consultations with indigenous communities will be extensive,” she said. “Probably the most extensive we have done.”

The artist said that the school was only “a part” of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s colonization process.

Carey Newman is the artist and master engraver behind Witness Blanket, a wooden “quilt” with items collected from boarding schools, survivors, government agencies and churches. He was shot with Zoom. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

Kyrie Newman, aboriginal artist, professor behind and master sculptor Witness blanket, Said the RCMP played a greater role in colonization outside of boarding schools.

“If we are to take our identity seriously, and our collective identity for what it means to be Canadians, I think this step is a step towards recognizing all history… The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is important in this country,” the artist Said that his traditional name is Hayalthkin’geme.

“I hope it is not limited to boarding schools.”

He pointed to other examples of historical interactions between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Aboriginal communities, such as removing them from the prairie and implementing a protected area system.

Newman is the son of a boarding school survivor. He said that one of the concepts that helped him understand his father was what he called “concentric trauma,” which lays the root of intergenerational trauma in its original source of injury, rather than implying responsibility for the individuals and families affected by it.

“I can see all the ways it affects my father, and how it affects our relationship and how I deal with it in the artwork I make,” Newman said. “But perhaps more importantly, in my personal relationship and how I treat my daughter’s father.”

Witness Blanket collected more than 800 items from 77 communities. (Gary Solilac/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

Worked with the Canadian Museum of Human Rights on display Witness blanketNewman said, “If there is an intention,” change is possible-but institutions like the RCMP Heritage Center need to go this way.

“I know how difficult it is to create change,” he said. “So I think I am a bit skeptical, waiting to see how these words are translated into action; what is the content and appearance of the exhibition.”


Do you have information about unmarked graves, children who have never returned home, or boarding school staff and operations? Email your tips to the CBC Investigative Boarding School’s new Aboriginal leadership team: [email protected].



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