Contributing to reconciliation
In December 2015, Canada received a historic final report from The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Canadians all across the country are now having important discussions about the devastating effects of residential schools and ways to move towards reconciliation.
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights has an important role to play in examining the injustices that resulted from the Indian residential school system and in exploring the spirit and intent of reconciliation. As the commissioners stated in their summary report, “Through their exhibits, education outreach, and research programs, all museums are well positioned to contribute to education for reconciliation.”
At the Museum, the history and legacy of residential schools is a theme woven throughout several different exhibits, an important part of its content related to Indigenous rights. Moving first-person testimony from residential school survivors is found in the Museum’s “Canadian Journeys” gallery and “Breaking the Silence” gallery.
Primary-source evidence from Indian residential schools examines the historic context, the violations, the attempts to deny the harm done, and efforts to break the silence. These exhibitions examine the history of residential schools but also the ongoing, intergenerational impacts that remain to this day. In presenting this evidence, the Museum invites visitors into a conversation about genocide in relation to residential schools and colonization.
References to the legacy of residential schools can also be found in a number of other exhibits – including one about Project of Heart, a school-based program that encourages empathy for survivors. The Museum also houses an exhibit about the work of the TRC, which is found in the Inspiring Change gallery on Level 7.
The Museum was also honoured to host The Witness Blanket from December 2015 to June 2016. This large-scale installation is made out of hundreds of items reclaimed from residential schools, churches, government buildings and related sites across Canada. The Witness Blanket recognizes the atrocities of residential schools, honours the children, and symbolizes ongoing reconciliation.
Students taking part in the Museum’s school programs learn more by participating in First Peoples’ Rights in a Changing Canada. The Museum is fortunate to be able to draw upon the expertise of an Indigenous Educators Working Group in developing student programs. This program incorporates elements of the residential school experience, the suppression of Aboriginal identity and the resilience shown by First Peoples in Canada.
As the Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the TRC, has said in public statements: We must endeavor to become a society that champions human rights, truth and tolerance, not by avoiding this difficult history, but rather by facing it head on.
Canada’s new national museum will continue to seek new ways to engage Canadians in the story of residential schools. We will listen, learn and work together with others in order to make a meaningful contribution towards reconciliation.