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Rediscovered Art By Residential School Students Goes On Display 50 Years On
March 27, 2013
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Photo: Chad Hipolito/The Globe and Mail

These paintings were done by students at a notorious residential school on Vancouver Island more than 50 years ago, and appear in today'sGlobe and Mail. Until recently, the artworks lay in bags and boxes in an archive, forgotten.

They were rediscovered two years ago by a field studies class at the University of Victoria. This weekend, they'll be celebrated at a repatriation ceremony in Port Alberni, B.C.

Students at the school faced abuse and difficult lives, as teachers - obeying government policy at the time - tried to suppress their culture. They were also subjected to a dorm supervisor who has since been labeled a "sexual terrorist" by Canadian courts.

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Photo: Chad Hipolito/The Globe and Mail

But their volunteer art teacher, Robert Aller, was different.

In his memoirs, Aller criticized the treatment of kids at residential schools. And when he taught, he would push the desks aside, and bring in photos of First Nations ceremonial masks for the students to study and draw.

Aller inspired Arthur Bolton, one of the former students whose work is featured in this collection.

"He had talked to us a lot about how to memorize where you have been - you see that painting in your mind, you throw it down," Bolton told the Globe.

Bolton is now a successful first nations artist and teacher himself.

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Photo: Chad Hipolito/The Globe and Mail

After the art was discovered, anthropologist Andrea Walsh and a team from the university spent two years working with elders from Coast Salish communities to track down the artists.

About half the works have been traced to their creators, who'll get them back. But some of the artists have asked the university to keep their art as a way of telling their stories.

The team is now contacting 1,000 other institutions across Canada to see if there's more artwork from residential schools students out there.

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Photo: Chad Hipolito/The Globe and Mail

"We are afforded an unbelievable opportunity to witness what the children were thinking about when they were in residential school," Walsh said. To read more about this story, visit the Globe and Mail's site.

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Photo: Chad Hipolito/The Globe and Mail

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Photo: Chad Hipolito/The Globe and Mail

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Photo: Chad Hipolito/The Globe and Mail

There are other art projects across the country that are helping promote First Nations cultures, and trying to heal some of the wounds from residential schools.

residential-schools-stained-glass.jpgOne project is happening in Attawapiskat, Ontario. A couple from Attawapiskat travelled to Ottawa last year to learn how to make stained glass.

They've taken their newfound skill back to their community, and used it to transform a local church. With a $50,000 from the federal Truth and Reconciliation fund, Jackie Hookimaw-Witt and Norbert Witt have taught others how to make stained glass.

The community has created six new windows for the church with scenes from Cree culture and history. On the left, in a photo taken by the CBC's Megan Thomas, is one of the windows.

Hookimaw-Witt told the CBC that her 80-year-old parents and four of her siblings spent their childhood in residential schools.

Another project that memorializes the residential school experience is planned for this summer in Saskatoon, CKOM reports.

A group of University of Saskatchewan art students will partner with the Saskatoon Tribal Council to create visual representations of the experiences of some residential school survivors.

"If you show a picture or something visually, people will remember that, as opposed to if you're reading a book or an academic paper," said Chief Felix Thomas, who first approached the university.

The project is expected to be quite a learning experience for U of S students.

"I think it will give them not just a conceptual response but an emotional response to it," says Susan Shantz, department head for art and art history at the University of Saskatchewan.

There are plans to showcase the final project at various Saskatoon locations in the fall.

Via The Globe And Mail

Related:

Truth and Reconciliation Commission Urges More Awareness of Residential Schools

House of Commons Votes to Make "Shannen's Dream" a Reality

For The First Time An Inuit Artist Has A Solo Show At The Smithsonian In Washington D.C.

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