Beyond Orange Shirt Day: Documenting the lasting impact of Indian Residential Schools

This past week, Canada marked Orange Shirt Day, a day designed to educate people about residential schools and the impact they had on Indigenous communities. This is a part of Canada's history that touches almost every Indigenous family in this country.
In August, the teepee that sits outside the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg was vandalized. It was taken down for repairs and raised again on October 2, 2019. (NCTR)
In August, the teepee that sits outside the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg was vandalized. Ry Moran, director of the NCTR responded by inviting people to come for a tour. The NCTR is the archive of all the material collected during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In holds 7,000 statements of residential school survivors, half a million documents, and a list of 4,000 students who died in the schools. And with Orange Shirt Day happening earlier this week — a day designed to educate Canadians about residential schools — it seemed like the perfect time to take Ry up on his offer. 

Carey Newman's installation, "The Witness Blanket." (John Woods/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

From a distance it looks like giant quilts hung in a row. There are the familiar star, diamond and rectangle shapes, pieced together to make a whole. But get closer, and another story unfolds. Instead of fabric, the wooden frames hold children's shoes, moccasins, braids of hair, hockey skates, bibles, bricks and mortar. They were collected from residential schools, churches, government buildings, and cultural structures across Canada. Artist and master carver Carey Newman wove them together to create The Witness Blanket.

Lorna Standingready (L) and Kaitlyn Swan. (Kaitlyn Swan)

Kaitlyn Swan grew up knowing her grandmother, Lorna Standingready, was a residential school survivor, but it was never talked about. A few years after she moved away from home, Kaitlyn wanted to know more about her grandmother's past. So she invited her to go on a road trip, and revisit some of the places she's never discussed with her family. Her grandmother agreed. Pretty soon it was just Kaitlyn and her grandmother, in a big black Nissan truck, with a lifetime of unspoken memories.

This documentary was produced as part of the Emerging Indigenous Doc Maker Program

This week's playlist


iskwē - Sweet Tuesday