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Witness Blanket to bear ‘eternal witness’ to residential school history

By Art Babych on May, 22 2015


Posing before the Witness Blanket at Ottawa City Hall (L to R): Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson; Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations; National Inuit Leader Terry Audla; Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC); Artist Carey Newman, Chief Wilton Littlechild and Dr. Marie Wilson, TRC commissioners; and Elder Irvin Sarazin. Photo: Art Babych

A “Witness Blanket” made from pieces of Indian Residential Schools, churches, government buildings and cultural structures was welcomed at Ottawa City Hall May 22 as the first event before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) begins marking the end of its six years of work.

Joining with Mayor Jim Watson and a large number of guests in council chambers were Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the TRC; Master Carver Carey Newman; and Elder Irvin Sarazin.

Watson said the city “is honoured to display the Witness Blanket so residents and visitors can explore it and experience its powerful messages of loss, grief, strength, reconciliation and hope.”  The artwork will remain on display for the next six weeks. 

Murray said the commission has “revealed to Canadians the complex truth about the history and the ongoing legacy of the church-run residential schools, and begun the historic process of healing and reconciliation.” But he added in his closing remarks, “a commission like the TRC cannot itself achieve reconciliation.” Reconciliation implies an ongoing relationship, said Murray, “and in order for relationships to work they require commitment and faith.” Some people say that reconciliation in the context of residential schools will never happen, Sinclair said. “It’s not a question of whether reconciliation will happen. It’s a question of whether reconciliation should happen. If we all agree that it should, then it will.”

Artist Carey Newman said he was honoured to participate in the truth and reconciliation process “and to provide a tangible visual legacy for the many, poignant stories that survivors from across the country have shared through this process.”  The blanket is meant to bear eternal witness to this important part of Canadian history, he added. “It is also meant to create awareness and encourage open conversation.” 

By having the exhibition in Ottawa, “the seat of the government that created the Indian Residential School system,” said Newman, “we honour the survivors and the children who were lost, and move forward with hope for true reconciliation and a better future.” 

Newman, who is the son of a residential school survivor, plans to showcase the Witness Blanket across Canada over a seven-year period. He calls it “a monument to commemorate the atrocities of the Indian Residential School era.”

Also present for the event were the other two commissioners, Marie Wilson, and Chief Wilton Littlechild, along with Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and National Inuit leader Terry Audla.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) is holding its closing events in Ottawa from May 31 to June 3, 2015.

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By Art Babych| May, 22 2015

About the Author

Art Babych

Art Babych

Art is the former editor of Crosstalk, the newspaper of the Anglican diocese of Ottawa.

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