Picking Up the Pieces: Residential School Memories and the Making of the Witness Blanket

Orca. Sept. 2019. 180p. photos. index. ISBN 9781459819955. $39.95. SOC SCI
Created by master carver Newman, of Kwakwaka’wakw and Coast Salish descent, he Witness Blanket is a living piece of artwork and contribution to the efforts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada to illuminate the experiences of Indigenous children within government-sanctioned boarding schools between 1870 and 1998. The schools, operated by a variety of religious groups, were intended to force the assimilation of students by denying them their cultural practices. While assimilation ultimately failed, it marked more than a century of violations of the human rights of the children, their families, and communities. The variety of Indigenous experiences shaped the blanket, which initially began as an effort to build art using materials from each of the schools but evolved as other types of artifacts, such as dolls and bowls, were incorporated. This copiously illustrated work is a moving catalog, cowritten with journalist Hudson, of a permanent exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.
VERDICT Readers interested in American Indian history or education will find important insights into the significance of the Witness Blanket and its component parts. Also consider the companion documentary, Picking Up the Pieces
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