The Witness Blanket will be on display at the Abbotsford campus of UFV, starting Sept. 13.

Witness Blanket honours Indigenous history

On display at UFV in Abbotsford, starting Sept. 13

The Witness Blanket, created by master carver and Kwagiulth artist Carey Newman (Ha-yalth-kingeme), is now open at University of the Fraser Valley for a two-month exhibition.

The exhibit is held at Evered Hall in the Student Union Building on the Abbotsford campus.

The Witness Blanket installation incorporates images from the residential school era, as well as items reclaimed from, and actual pieces of, residential schools, churches, government buildings and traditional structures from across Canada.

The Witness Blanket is designed to act as a witness to the residential school experience, telling the stories of those affected through art, and travelling so that the stories can be shared across Canada.

“It is a very powerful and moving piece of art that captures the profound feelings of grief, anger, and injustice associated with the residential school system and its legacy,” says Shirley Hardman, UFV senior advisor on Indigenous affairs.

Hardman encourages everyone to experience and learn from the exhibition, and says it will be particularly moving for Indigenous families whose relatives experienced the residential school system.

“We know this could be a profound and emotional experience for them, and we will have attendants on hand to support visitors if they are overcome by emotion.”

The Witness Blanket is monumental in scale. Consisting of 13 wood panels, it is more than eight feet tall and 40 feet long.

Over 800 objects were collected for the installation, including braids of hair, a Métis sash, a weather-beaten shoe, the door to the infirmary of St. Michael’s Residential School in Alert Bay, and a stone from a community greenhouse in Inuvik.

As part of its two-month visit to UFV (until Nov. 8), the university will present a three-part lecture series on three consecutive Wednesdays, starting Oct. 4. The three speakers – including Chief Robert Joseph and Cecelia Reekie and one to be confirmed – will focus on reconciliation and the steps ahead as Canada moves forward while changing the way we understand our history.

There will also be a closing ceremony on Nov. 8 at 6 p.m.

UFV students are taking part in an interdisciplinary course based on the Witness Blanket and Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

As part of the course, they will serve as attendants for the exhibit and learn from local Stó:lō knowledge keepers about the practice and protocols of hosting and ceremony.

The course will be team-taught by local knowledge keepers in tandem with faculty members from visual arts, social work, and teacher education.

The exhibit will be available for viewing Mondays to Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday (only in October) from 1 to 3 p.m. Admission is free. Visit witnessblanket.ca.