The New Westminster Museum and Archives presents their latest exhibition, Witness Blanket. Inspired by a woven blanket, this large-scale art installation is made out of hundreds of items reclaimed from Residential Schools, churches, government buildings, and traditional and cultural structures including Friendship Centres, band offices, treatment centres and universities, from across Canada. The exhibition opens on Monday, December 5, with an opening reception on Tuesday, December 13 (6 pm – 8 pm) on the Anvil Centre third floor.
In my opinion, this is one of the most important pieces the Museum will bring to New West and pictures do not do it justice. It must be seen. Oana Capota, the curator at the Museum said, “The exhibition is important because, in addition to honouring the survivors, it makes us think about what happened. One of the central questions in the exhibition is: How would you feel is someone came and took your child? What does it mean to have your cultural identity suppressed?”
The Witness Blanket stands as a national monument to recognise the atrocities of the Indian Residential School era, honour the children, and symbolise ongoing reconciliation. For decades, Canadian government policy dictated that First Nations children move to boarding schools away from their families. Abuse was common and children were punished for speaking their languages.
“As well, since First Nations content is woven into all grades of the new school curriculum, this gives students and children a way to learn about this aspect of Canada’s history. The museum is also bringing in programming content that will be a resource for people wanting to learn more,” said Capota.
The history and impact of the residential schools program will be taught in BC schools at grades 5, 10, and 11/12 though the materials can be adapted to children as young as grade 3. This exhibition can open a conversation and continue the education.
The Witness Blanket was envisioned and created by Kwagiulth artist and master carver Carey Newman after months of collecting. “The Witness Blanket may be the most important piece I have ever created,” Newman says in a short film introducing the piece.
“I feel an obligation to bring it to as many communities as possible.”
The museum has developed and scheduled a series of associated programs to enhance this feature exhibition including Cedar Bark Basket Weaving, Salish Weaving Quarter Pouch, Mini Cedar Headband Bracelets, a Blanket Exercise, and a screening of the film, A Tribe of One. Further programming is being confirmed and will be updated on the museum website.
The Witness Blanket will be on display at the New Westminster Museum until April 21. The exhibit’s website is a great source of information as well.
The New Westminster Museum is located at 777 Columbia Street on the third floor of the Anvil Centre, New Westminster. The museum is open to the public every day, 10 am – 5 pm (with extended hours on Thursdays to 8 pm). Admission is by donation. For more information, call 604-527-4640 or go to www.nwmuseumarchives.ca. The New Westminster Museum and Archives are operated by the City of New Westminster and are financially assisted by the Government of British Columbia through the British Columbia Arts Council.