The first major, permanent, residential school Survivor-driven exhibition in a former residential school building opened in ceremony today on the campus of Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
The event honours over four decades of work led by the Survivor community in their efforts to tell the truth about the residential school past and contribute to national healing and reconciliation efforts.
The new exhibit, located on the third floor of the former Shingwauk Indian Residential School, explores the history of the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Indian Residential Schools through their industrial and residential phases. The exhibition presents over 110 years of history and was made possible by funding from the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) funded Creative Conciliations project, and the Canadian Heritage Museums Assistance Program (MAP).
“The exhibition is a dream come true,” said Algoma University Chancellor and a founding member of the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association (CSAA), Shirley Horn. “We have been discussing the creation of this space for a long time. This new exhibition helps reflect the whole story of those who lived through the residential school era and helps fellow Survivors move toward healing and reconciliation. It is our story acknowledged and preserved for future generations – our contribution to Canada’s history.”
The exhibition features three galleries: “From Teaching Wigwam to Residential School”, “Life at Shingwauk Home: An Indian Residential School”, and “We are all Children of Shingwauk”. All galleries were co-curated by Jonathan Dewar and Trina Cooper-Bolam, with guidance from Jeff Thomas, and in collaboration with Survivors.
“Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall” was produced by the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre (SRSC), under its mandate of sharing, healing, and learning. It is the first phase of “Healing and Reconciliation through Education”, a larger, multi-phase, comprehensive exhibition plan that seeks to dramatically transform the site of the former Shingwauk Indian Residential School into a world-class site for commemoration and public education.
“Today, we proudly dedicate Shingwauk Hall to the thousands of Survivors who across Canada experienced the hardships and cultural assimilation of the residential schools era,” said President and Vice-Chancellor Asima Vezina. “Algoma University prides itself on being a leader in truth and reconciliation in Canada. Today marks a significant fulfillment of one of the Calls to Action (Commemoration) Algoma University committed to in 2017. This new, permanent exhibition tells the narrative of the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Indian Residential Schools. It will also help us on our journey to realize the original vision of Chief Shingwauk, to create a teaching wigwam on this historical site. We welcome the nation to visit Shingwauk Hall to learn more about Canada’s residential school history as part of part of a wider commitment to healing and reconciliation.”
“The Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall exhibition is an important contribution to our understanding of the experience of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. This survivor-driven reclamation not only allows us to reflect and be educated on our history, but also allows us to look forward to the process of reconciliation,” Sault Ste. Marie Member of Provincial Parliament, Ross Romano.
Additional funding has been secured through the MAP, for development of the next phase in the five -stage plan, a “Residential Schools Gallery” to be located in the vestibule outside of the Shingwauk Auditorium. This gallery will be an artifact-orientated storytelling space that works with Survivors to tell experiences through objects. The gallery is slated for completion in 2019.
“It is critical to recognize that Truth comes before Reconciliation. We have an obligation to recognize, speak about, and learn from the truth of the residential school system. Algoma University can be a national leader in this regard and I commend it and its leadership for supporting and facilitating the Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall: Healing and Reconciliation through Education exhibition. Residential schools separated Indigenous children from their families in order to minimize and weaken First Nation family and culture. Educational tools such as this exhibit acknowledge the truth of the residential school system, support the healing process, and preserve the stories of residential school Survivors for future generations,” Christian Provenzano, Mayor of Sault Ste. Marie.
“The opening of “Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall” was part of the annual Shingwauk Gathering and Conference.“The Reclaiming of Shingwauk Hall [exhibition] is a significant milestone on our common path of truth and reconciliation. The historical images and artifacts in these survivor-driven exhibits will stand as a healing testament to the many decades of experiences of the Children of the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Industrial and Residential Schools. These exhibits tell an important story, of children being forcibly taken from their homes, their families, and their culture,” said Sault Ste. Marie Member of Parliament Terry Sheehan. He continued, “They also tell the story of Chief Shingwauk and his vision of Teaching Wigwams, and subsequent generations of students who were transformed through education and the healing power of courageously speaking the truth. These stories will be held steadfast in our hearts and minds, as a reminder of the suffering that has been, and the continuation of healing to come. I am pleased that the federal government provided significant funding in support of this important project.”
Lieutenant-General of Ontario Elizabeth Dowdeswell spent the day at Shingwauk to commemorate this event and shared her sentiments. “Building on the strong partnership that Shingwauk has created, this exhibition responds in a powerful way to the calls for education set out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”
However, she – like many others – highlighted the need to keep fighting for healing. “In order for healing to happen, Ontario must own up to the dark and shameful elements of the past with eyes and hearts wide open.”
Andy Rickard, Councillor with Garden River First Nation, seconded this. He explained that while the final report on Truth and Reconciliation shows us a path forward, there have been many step backs and injustices that continue to occur throughout the country.
While the event was a cathartic experience for friends, family, victims and survivors, the consensus was clear: Everyone has a role to play to ensure that a meaningful path forward is implemented.
To animate the exhibition and bolster long-standing educational efforts, the SRSC is currently developing new programming to engage the public and current Algoma students, as well as students from across the country.
The exhibition is open to the public Monday – Friday from 8:30am – 4:30pm. Guided residential school tours are also available to the public through the SRSC. To book a tour, please email [email protected] or call 705.949.2301, Ext. 4623.