A red brick and a piece of sandstone from the Red Deer Industrial School has become part of a monumental sculpture of remembrance and reconciliation of residential schools.
Carey Newman, a master carver, will use the historic artifacts from the Red Deer Industrial School in his national Indian Residential School Commemorative art project ‘Witness: Pieces of History’.
“This work will recognize the atrocities of the Indian Residential School era, honour the children, and symbolize ongoing reconciliation,” said Newman, from his gallery in British Columbia.
The pieces of the residential school in Red Deer were given to Project Coordinator Rosy Steinhauer at a Feast to Remember the Children following a Truth and Reconciliation Committee hearing that took place in Red Deer last week. The feast and the hearing were hosted by the Remembering the Children Society of Red Deer. Steinhauer is the grandniece of former Alberta Lt. Gov. Ralph Steinhauer, Canada’s first First Nations lieutenant governor, who attended the school as a child.
“The impact of the Indian residential schools still weighs on our people. My father attended residential school and I have seen firsthand that the experience haunts him to this day,” said Newman.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, First Nations children were removed from their homes to live-in facilities where they were forbidden to use their language or culture. The Red Deer Industrial School operated from 1893-1919 by agreement between the federal government and the Methodist Church (later to form part of The United Church of Canada).
“I conceived the Witness Blanket to not only honour my father, but also to leave a legacy for my daughter, so that her generation may continue this journey toward healing and reconciliation,” said Newman. “I believe that if we bear witness with open hearts and open minds, truth will distinguish itself. Reconciliation has elements of grief, elements of healing and elements of teaching each intertwined with a fundamental pursuit of truth.”
More than just a piece of artwork, the project includes a team that is crossing Canada on gathering trips to collect pieces and stories from the Indian Residential School era. The team is looking for wood, brick, glass, shingles, metal, books, photographs and other materials related to this historical era.
People from all parts of Canada, of all faiths, ethnicities and generations are called on to participate. Contributions can be arranged online, by phone or at gathering trips, and local ‘champions’ are encouraged to coordinate gathering pieces within local communities.
“In Salish culture there is a tradition of ‘blanketing’ – when a blanket is given to offer protection, strength or public recognition. In that manner, this blanket will stand as a woven testament to our shared history, upholding and honouring the survivors and their families,” said Newman.
“The Witness Blanket will be a tangible patchwork of broken pieces that make up a whole, with the purpose of honouring the history of place and bringing about reconciliation of our past.”