News / Winnipeg

‘Witness Blanket’ arrives in Winnipeg, 800-piece artwork tells residential school history

Exhibit on display at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights for six months

The Witness Blanket is a collection of 887 objects that are connected to Canada's Indian Residential School System

Stephanie Taylor

The Witness Blanket is a collection of 887 objects that are connected to Canada's Indian Residential School System

Growing up, Carey Newman knew very little about what the words ‘residential school’ meant. 

Some of what the West Coast artist remembers thinking was that it was simply a term used to describe a place where people lived.

“It also at the time meant that my dad didn’t like rice pudding and didn’t like scallop potatoes because that’s all they got to eat there,” Newman recently recalled.

But it was during his teenage years when Newman said he and his father began to reconcile their relationship that he learned the horrific truth behind Canada’s Indian residential school system, and the scars it left imprinted on survivors, such as his own father.

“I started to understand what ‘residential school’ meant, and then I started to understand what my dad was all about.”

Old photographs and text are many of the objects collected in 'The Witness Blanket'

Stephanie Taylor

Old photographs and text are many of the objects collected in 'The Witness Blanket'

Newman shared some of his personal revelation during the Winnipeg opening of his installation 'The Witness Blanket,' at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Monday.

The exhibit’s opening coincides with the submission of the final report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa on Tuesday.  

Newman said his twelve-metre long work is comprised of 887 objects collected from 77 sites across each province and territory.

Together, he says the collage of artifacts stands as a monument to recognize the children of residential schools.

Artist Carey Newman, wearing some traditional Indigenous dress, standing next to a collection of objects tied to his family history, such as his sisters' braids

Stephanie Taylor

Artist Carey Newman, wearing some traditional Indigenous dress, standing next to a collection of objects tied to his family history, such as his sisters' braids

From a collection of badges that were passed out to children for succeeding in cooking and sewing, and a mangled shoe found at a former school site in the Yukon, to a selection of old photographs and a door from a B.C. school Newman’s uncle once attended.

Despite having began his healing journey in the ‘70s, residential school survivor and author Theodore Fontaine said seeing the artwork was emotionally triggering.

In particular, he said coming across a washbasin found behind the piece’s main display was especially stirring.

“We were victims of that particular time and then, of course, we became survivors. But more and more you confront what it was that turned your life upside down,” Fontaine said Monday.

“You didn’t even know as a little boy, as a little child, what it was doing to you.”

Newman said the work is currently on a nationwide tour, with the hopes of travelling to the United Kingdom. 

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