Richard Watts / Times Colonist
It’s a First Nations blanket woven from fragments of wood, stone, building supplies and other hard artifacts.
Called the Witness Blanket, it’s a giant sculptural piece with the memory of the Indian residential schools as the single element binding the disparate elements together.
Created by Vancouver Island artist and Kwagiulth master carver, Carey Newman (Ha-yalth-kingeme), the sculpture was inspired by the traditional First Nations notion of a blanket as a symbol of protection and comfort.
It marks the beginning of a national Canadian journey toward reconciliation and redress.
The Witness Blanket will be presented to the public for the first time today at the University of Victoria to mark the beginning of a three-day conference, CUVic 2014, a global event to highlight the ways universities and communities can work together.
In a past interview with the Times Colonist, Newman said blankets, for native peoples, contain many stories: there are comfort, warmth and ceremonial button blankets.
But they also come with dark tales like the smallpox-infected blankets that brought disease to native communities. Newman’s project was sponsored by the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission, struck in 2008 to explore the legacy of the Indian residential schools, the last of which closed in 1996. These schools were part of a network across Canada that started in the 19th century, part of an aggressive attempt to educate and assimilate the younger native generations.
Children were removed from their parents and homes and sent to boarding schools, usually run by churches. Conditions were often harsh, and abuse was widespread.