Edmonton

Do you know this boy? Curators of Alberta exhibit search for identity of Indigenous child

The curators of a new art exhibit in Edmonton are hoping to identify a young Indigenous child photographed nearly 80 years ago during the royal visit to the capital city.

Iconic Edmonton photograph taken during 1939 royal visit

The curators of a new art exhibit are hoping to identify this young Indigenous child photographed nearly 80 years ago in Edmonton. (City of Edmonton Archives)

Do you know this boy?

The curators of a new art exhibit in Edmonton are hoping to identify a young Indigenous child photographed nearly 80 years ago during the royal visit to the capital city.

The child, dressed in beaded vest and tie, stands in the foreground in front of a row of teepees staring intently at the photographer.

"This boy is dressed to the nines … and standing proud," said Miranda Jimmy, co-founder of Reconciliation in Solidarity Edmonton (RISE).

"We thought with this particular photo, this boy might still be alive and might have a story to tell." 

The "stoic little boy" appears to be about seven years old putting him in his late eighties, Jimmy said in an interview Monday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"By sharing this publicly, we're still hoping he comes forward and has an opportunity to speak his recollection of this experience."

The boy in the photograph was among thousands of people who lined the streets on June 2, 1939, when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth passed through depression-era Edmonton.

It was the first time a reigning monarch had stepped foot in the country and the population of the city swelled in anticipation.

The boy was photographed near Kingsway Avenue, a street which had been renamed to honour the king's impending visit. 

The city splurged to decorate the streets and thousands flocked to grab a seat in the wooden grandstands erected along the avenue for the royal procession.

'I want to know what he knows'

"This boy made the trek from somewhere ... to be present for the royal visit, as many Indigenous people did, to honour the relationship of the treaty which was signed with the Crown," Jimmy said.

"I want to know what he knows, what he remembers."  

The photograph is now part of Reconciling Edmonton, a free exhibit curated by RISE on display at the Art Gallery of St. Albert until March 30.

Jimmy, Indigenous poet Anna Marie Sewell, historian Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail and visual artist Jennie Vegt collaborated on the project.

The women scoured through city, municipal and provincial archives, searching for powerful photographs portraying historical interactions between Indigenous people and settlers from the signing of Treaty 6 through to present day.

Seven photographs were selected. Vegt recreated each image with oil on canvas. Metcalfe-Chenail and Sewell composed poems for each work, taking inspiration from their historical research.

This oil painting by Jennie Vegt, titled Royal: The Gamble, was inspired by the 1939 photograph. (RISE)

The search for photographs turned out to be harder than expected — and revealed something troubling about Alberta's historical record, Jimmy said.  

Indigenous people are largely absent from the archives. When they were included, they were usually filed under the generic, out-of-date term, "Indians." Indigenous people were rarely named.

There is an important part of the story that's missing.- Miranda Jimmy

There is a lack of Indigenous voices in Alberta's historical record, Jimmy said. The boy in the photograph could provide an important historical perspective on the royal visit. 

"If you think about the intent of archives, they're a colonial institution," she said.

"Within the archives, there is a certain perspective and a certain record that is kept, so we know date, location and the occasion for which the picture was taken but we don't know much about the people."

Of the seven images researched and re-created for the exhibit, the little boy in his regalia remains "the biggest mystery," Jimmy said.

"There is an important part of the story that's missing. We'd love to hear it."

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