The Witness Blanket exhibit now open at Stauffer Library

Photo via Queen’s University.

Stauffer Library at Queen’s University is hosting the Witness Blanket, a large-scale wooden art installation inspired by a woven blanket and created by master carver Carey Newman or Hayalthkin’geme (Ha-yalth-kingeme).

Housed in the Fireplace Reading Room on the second floor of the library, the Witness Blanket is a symbol of resilience and reconciliation and is made up of hundreds of items reclaimed from residential schools, churches, government buildings, and traditional and cultural structures from across Canada.

According to a release from the university, the Witness Blanket “helps us to better understanding and seek justice for the disproportionate victimization of Indigenous children which is among the calls to action made in Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. This exhibit serves to help us deepen our knowledge and re-affirm our commitment and core value of a more diverse, equitable inclusive and anti-racist community.”

The Witness Blanket team collected over 880 objects from every province and territory in Canada, the university stated. They travelled over 200,000 kilometres, visited 77 communities and met with more than 10,000 people.

“There is a large importance in allowing Indigenous history, Indigenous voices and Indigenous artists to reclaim space and narratives, especially in institutions like Queen’s,” said Mika Henry, Acting Associate Director of Office of Indigenous Initiatives at Queen’s University.

“While the history of Canada’s residential school system is a story of cultural genocide and colonialism, this art exhibit is highlighting more narratives—sharing stories from far and wide as an act of reclamation and resurgence.” 

According to Queen’s, the exhibition honours more than 150,000 Indigenous children who were forced into residential schools between 1870 and 1996, seeks to build a better understanding of Canada’s past, and re-affirms the university’s commitment to a more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and anti-racist society.

“Libraries have a responsibility to share the true history of what happened at residential schools, as well as the ongoing, intergenerational trauma they caused,” said Mark Asberg, Vice-Provost and University Librarian. “We are honoured to welcome the Witness Blanket to Queen’s and encourage campus community members to engage with this important opportunity to learn, and to support both Canada’s calls to action, as well as our university’s own commitment to truth and reconciliation.” 

The Witness Blanket on display at another location. Photo via Queen’s University.

The piece is on loan from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and was first exhibited in 2015-2016. It was most recently on display at Nipissing University. This is the first time the exhibit will be at Queen’s. The university said it will be available to anyone during regular library hours until the first week of June, coinciding with National Indigenous History Month in Canada. The Witness Blanket will travel to the Art Gallery of Algoma in Sault Ste. Marie after it leaves Queen’s University.

To learn more about The Witness Blanket, visit witnessblanket.ca.  

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