Witness Blanket: Preserving a Legacy (Level 1 Gallery)

April 30, 2021 to May 01, 2022

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A large horizontal art installation with a wooden frame made up of multiple diamonds and rectangles to which many objects are mounted. There is a half-opened door in the middle of the work.

Photo: CMHR, Jessica Sigurdson

Exhibition details

Witness Blanket: Preserving a Legacy explores a powerful art installation created by master carver Carey Newman. The Witness Blanket bears witness to the truths of residential school Survivors to foster understanding among Indigenous and non‐Indigenous people. We invite you to bear witness, and to follow the Museum’s efforts to conserve this significant work for generations to come.

More than 130 Indian residential schools operated across Canada. They were a deliberate attempt to destroy Indigenous communities and ways of life. This system was part of a broader process of colonization and genocide.

The Witness Blanket was created to honour the children who were forced into the Indian residential school system in Canada. It takes the form of a cedar “blanket,” and includes over 800 pieces of Indian residential school history.

These contributions were donated by residential school Survivors and their families, band offices, and friendship centres. Many items were reclaimed from former residential school sites. The contributions include letters, photos, stories, books, clothing, art and fragments of buildings. Those responsible for the school system – churches and the Canadian federal government – have also donated pieces for this installation.

Following several years of travel and exhibition across Canada, The Witness Blanket requires detailed conservation work to preserve its many and varied components and to stabilize it for display. Conservators are working to record, photograph and treat the Blanket. Documents related to the collection process are being preserved as an important part of understanding the work’s significance.

The Museum collaborated with staff from the Canadian Conservation Institute to better understand the care required, then enlisted the expertise of the conservation team at the Manitoba Museum to lead this project. Treatments are occurring within the gallery space, as well as on site at the Manitoba Museum’s conservation laboratory.

This exhibition invites visitors to explore the impacts of common conservation challenges, learn about technical aspects of conservation work and witness this important aspect of the Museum’s responsibility to care for the Witness Blanket. This work is conducted in collaboration with the artist and his team and honours the perspectives, skills and experience of Indigenous people. It also represents a commitment to reconciliation through action.

The Witness Blanket

A large horizontal art installation with a wooden frame made up of multiple diamonds and rectangles to which many objects are mounted. There is a half-opened door in the middle of the work.

The Witness Blanket was created to honour the children who were forced into the Indian residential school system in Canada. It takes the form of a cedar “blanket,” and includes over 800 pieces of Indian residential school history.

Photo: CMHR, Jessica Sigurdson
A person wearing blue gloves closely inspects a large artwork made up of many varied objects affixed to pieces of wood.

In March 2020, conservators from the Canadian Conservation Institute inspected theWitness Blanket,provided a detailed condition report and proposed a treatment plan. Conservation involves assessing the condition of the work, and then performing a range of culturally informed and scientifically appropriate treatments to preserve it.

Photo: CMHR, Jessica Sigurdson

Slideshow controls

Discover the stories of survival woven into the Witness Blanket and learn about the careful conservation work that will enable it to carry the stories of residential school Survivors forward to future generations.

Witness Blanket: Preserving a Legacy runs in the Level 1 gallery, starting in April 30, 2021. This exhibition is being presented along with Artivism, an exhibition exploring artistic expression as a powerful response to large‐scale violations of human rights. It features the work of six artists and art collectives whose work takes an activist approach to expose, denounce and prevent mass atrocities.

Witness Blanket: Preserving a Legacy is generously supported by:

The Witness Blanket team wishes to acknowledge the support of:

  • Residential school Survivors, who through the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement provided the funding for this project
  • Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
  • Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada
  • Rina M Bidin Foundation
  • Media One
  • Victoria Native Friendship Centre
  • Acumen Communications
  • Canadian Conservation Institute
  • Camosun College

Find out more about the Witness Blanket using the mobile app (Apple/iOS only), which lets you explore it in detail.

Dive deeper

Picking Up the Pieces: The Making of the Witness Blanket

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Large artwork consisting of objects set in cedar frames.

Childhood denied

A story about Indian residential schools and their legacy

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A group of boys wearing pyjamas kneels on single beds with heads bowed and hands clasped as if in prayer. A woman stands in the room with her hands clasped in a similar manner.

Truth and reconciliation: What’s next?

By Karine Duhamel

This article series has focused on the way we present Indigenous content within the Museum and how we are approaching reconciliation.

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A closeup of a carved wooden box, showing the carved face of a person with a painted red hand over their mouth.

Why reconciliation? Why now?

By Karine Duhamel

Since the publication of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s final report in 2015, more and more Canadians seem focused on the idea of reconciliation.

Tags for Why reconciliation? Why now?
Carved wooden faces

The nuts and bolts of reconciliation

By Karine Duhamel

As a child, I often visited museums. I was lucky to be able to travel with my family, and to visit interpretive spaces across the country.

Tags for The nuts and bolts of reconciliation
A closeup of a carved wooden box, showing a painted image of a red hand over a carved mouth.

Reconciliation: A movement of hope or a movement of guilt?

By Karine Duhamel

In Why reconciliation? Why now? I talked about the idea of reconciliation as an invitation to a new and shared future and as a pathway towards a good life, both for Indigenous people and for other Canadians.

Tags for Reconciliation: A movement of hope or a movement of guilt?
Carved wooden face

Picking up the Pieces

Launched at the Museum in November 2019, this beautiful book tells the story of the making of the Witness Blanket.

Shop with confidence and conscience at the Boutique.

Cover of book depicting the title "Picking up the pieces"