Rare artwork created by children in resident schools displayed at Museum of Vancouver

Rare artwork created by children  in resident schools displayed at Museum of Vancouver

ark Atleo of the Ahousaht First Nation, who also goes by the name Kiikitakashuaa, with his artwork in the background. A survivor of the Alberni Indian Residential School on Vancouver Island, he says painting represented an escape. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

‘We just want people to witness what the kids went through’

Michelle Ghoussoub · CBC News ·

A new exhibition at the Museum of Vancouver is displaying rare artworks created by children who attended residential schools — oftentimes, the only surviving materials from their childhood.

Mark Atleo of the Ahousaht First Nation, who also goes by the name Kiikitakashuaa, with his artwork in the background. A survivor of the Alberni Indian Residential School on Vancouver Island, he says painting represented an escape. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The exhibit, called There is Truth Here: Creativity and Resilience in Children’s Art from Indian Residential and Day Schools, was curated by Andrea Walsh, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Victoria.

It features artworks by children at the St. Michael’s Indian Residential school in Alert Bay just off Vancouver Island, the Alberni Indian Residential School on Vancouver Island,  Inkameep Day School in B.C.’s Okanagan and Mackay Indian Residential School in Manitoba.

The exhibit includes paintings, drawings, sewing, beading, drumming, singing and drama produced by children who attended the schools. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

It includes paintings, drawings, sewing, beading, drumming, singing and drama produced by children who attended the schools.

Sharon Fortney, curator of Indigenous collections and engagement at the Museum of Vancouver, said the exhibit is part of the museum’s mandate of reconciliation.

“The focus of this exhibition is on the children as survivors and their creativity and resilience, so we actually in this exhibition avoid talking about the really terrible things that happened in the schools,” she said.

Mark Atleo of the Ahousaht First Nation said that when he was in residential school, painting was an escape. He continues to paint today. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“We hope that people witness the realities of the schools just by recognizing these are small children that were taken away from their homes, and a lot of their artworks were memories of home or family members that they’re missing,” she said.

Though the exhibit doesn’t directly address some of the well-documented traumas that occurred at the schools, curators took care to address the sensitivities around some of the images.

Three of the images were created as part of art therapy sessions, and are tucked behind a wall, with a sign warning that some visitors may find the images upsetting.

The exhibition features a refuge area for quiet reflection, and the museum is working with the Urban Native Youth Association to create a medicine table where visitors can smell sage, sweetgrass or cedar for comfort.

The visitors team also underwent training with the Indian Residential Schools Survivor Society before the exhibit was opened to the public.

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