27 June 2016

Re/telling the story of Canada's Residential Schools

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada investigated the impact of Canada's Indian Residential Schools system on students, their families, and indigenous peoples across Canada more broadly. The report, which concluded that this schools system was part of a systematic government program of cultural genocide, was just the first step toward reconciliation and healing for those affected, and for relations between all Canadians and indigenous peoples on whose land Canada was founded.

As was evidenced in the joint CASCA SANA meetings held at Dalhousie University this past May, many projects are now underway to begin and continue this journey of healing and reconciliation. Federal funding is now being made available to projects committed to this goal. At Dalhousie, Andrea Walsh (Victoria; scroll to "Current projects - Collections and Community Based Research and Curating") and Myrna Cranmer (Kwakwaka'wakw, 'Namgis) discussed "The work of redress through repatriation in the case of the Alberni Indian Residential School paintings collection." In 2013, another project was the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's creation of what is now a "critically acclaimed original ballet, based on a story by The Orenda novelist Joseph Boyden and featuring music from Tanya Tagaq" (2016, CBC). Projects are also making this history more accessible to settler-Canadians, for instance through the creation of a new Heritage Minute. For Canadians who grew up in the 1990s, we learned a lot about Canadian history through the minute-long educational shorts shown during commercial breaks called Heritage Minutes. Yet, only 6 of these minutes addressed aboriginal peoples, and none addressed the uncomfortable and shameful past of this cultural genocide... until this past week with the publication of Heritage Minutes: Chanie Wenjack. Like all of these minutes, this one provides an evocative glimpse into part of Canada's history.

Instructors teaching about colonialism and the reverberations of systemic violence against indigenous peoples might be interested in reflecting on these projects as an opening to a broader discussion on these topics. What can these examples bring to the discussion colonial legacies in the context of Canadian national identity? Why is it important to collaborate with and support indigenous peoples in the re/telling of this brutal history? How does voice and representation matter in projects of reconciliation and healing? What role has anthropology played in these historical projects, and what can anthropologists do today?

Quick links and further reading:
UPDATE 30 June 2016: CBC now has a link to their documentary, Truth, Dance, & Reconciliation (44.10 minutes run time), about the RWB ballet about Canada's Indian residential school history, "Going Home Star."