‘Teaching Wigwam’ The Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall Project continues to build Archive Collection

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Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall embodies years of collaboration with the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association, Residential School Survivors, and local First Nation communities. The overall design was driven by community input and the project team was in constant communication with Survivors about the ways in which their experience should be presented. Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall is an example of the future of Indigenous driven, decolonized history practice, which embraces community authority. (photo by Dan Gray, Superior Media)

Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall is the first major, permanent Residential School Survivor driven exhibition in a former Residential School building. The space presents over 110 years of history of the Shingwauk Indian Industrial Residential Schools. The award winning exhibition space presents over 110 years of history of the Shingwauk Indian Industrial Residential Schools within the larger context of colonialism, truth telling, and reconciliation in Canada.

In 2006, Algoma University College signed the Shingwauk Covenant with Shingwauk Education Trust further cementing this commitment. In 2008, Algoma University College received its University Charter with the special mission of cross-cultural Aboriginal education and research, in keeping with the history of the site. Through their partnership, the CSAA, NRSSS and Algoma University have established the Residential Schools Centre (the Centre) which under shared direction with the University’s Arthur A. Wishart Library co-ordinates, catalogues, stores and displays the Residential School artefacts, photographs, documents and resources donated and collected. Algoma University has a uniquely special mission to provide cross-cultural learning between Indigenous communities and other communities in Northern Ontario.

Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall embodies years of collaboration with the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association, Residential School Survivors, and local First Nation communities. The overall design was driven by community input and the project team was in constant communication with Survivors about the ways in which their experience should be presented. Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall is an example of the future of Indigenous driven, decolonized history practice, which embraces community authority.

Superior Media spoke with Krista McCracken, Researcher/ Curator, Arthur A.Wishart Library and Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, Algoma University. Krista McCracken shared the importance of continuing to build the archival collection at Shingwauk Hall.

“Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall is a one-of-a-kind space where documenting the legacy of residential school is its guiding principle. The collection speaks to the role of colonization in our shared history and the impact of ‘The Indian Act'” she said.

The Indian Act is part of a long history of Canada’s assimilation policies that intended to terminate the cultural, social, economic, and political distinctiveness of indigenous peoples by absorbing them into mainstream Canadian life and values. While the ‘Indian Act’ has undergone numerous amendments since it was first passed in 1876, today it largely retains its original form. The ‘Indian Act’ came to be developed over time through separate pieces of colonial legislation regarding Aboriginal peoples across Canada such as the Gradual Civilization Act of 1857 and ‘The Gradual Enfranchisement Act’. In 1876, these acts were consolidated as ‘The Indian Act.

One of the specific items that the Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall Project would appreciate receiving for its collection are ‘status cards’. ‘Indian Status’ refers to a specific legal identity of an Indigenous person in Canada. With the creation of the in 1876, the Canadian government developed criteria for who would be legally considered an Indian. This criteria continues to be outlined in Section 6 of the Indian Act, thus defining who qualifies for Indian status. Given the government’s historical unilateral authority to determine who is legally Indian, the Assembly of First Nations as well as other leaders and academics have described the Indian Act as a form of apartheid law.

photo courtesy The Shingwauk Hall Project

McCracken stated, “The mission and focus of the archival collection is for education purposes and for the collection to be a valuable resource for generations to come.” McCracken also shared that any item offered for the archives, Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall Project can be returned to the person or organization who has shared it. “We can copy the document and black out any identifiable information, such as a name for example. We have received a few ‘status cards’ up to this point. The collection would be greatly enhanced by receiving more (status cards).” she said. “Women with ‘status’ would lose their indigenous status through the ‘Indian Act’ legislation if they married a non-indigenous person. Bill C-31 reversed that policy, thanks in large part to indigenous women who pushed for reclamation of their lost  status and to ensure indigenous women in future generations will never have to worry about such a divisive policy.”

Bill C-31, or a Bill to Amend the Indian Act, passed into law in April 1985. A long fight and staunch opposition to these policies by women who had lost their status resulted in the passing of Bill C-31 to amend the Indian Act. It is now impossible for a status Indian to lose their status, and those who had involuntarily lost their status were able to be reinstated with it. These amendments, however, have not entirely remedied the discriminatory history, as descendents of women who have lost their status continue to face challenges. Therefore, amendments to the Indian Act regarding status continue to be challenged and revised.

In 2018, The ‘Ontario Historical Society’ presented the Indigenous History Award to the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre for the Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall initiative. The Indigenous History Award recognizes significant contributions towards the promotion or preservation of Indigenous history or heritage in Ontario.

“Uniquely located on the site of the former Shingwauk Residential School, the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre at Algoma University has taken a leadership role in community-engaged work by making accessible the story of Indian Residential Schools broadly, and the story of the Shingwauk School and its Survivors more specifically.” The Ontario Historical Society media release stated.

Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall incorporates decades of historical research and archival material illustrating the lived experience at Residential Schools. It includes Residential School Survivor testimony in the form of oral history narratives and digital photo stations, allowing for the continuous addition of new historical and contemporary images. Although the exhibition drew heavily from the SRSC archives, a wide range of external sources were also accessed. These include the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, the General Synod Archives of the Anglican Church, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Algoma Art Gallery, Library and Archives Canada, and the Pine Family of Garden River First Nation.The opening of this exhibition space had a profound impact on regional and national narratives about Residential Schools and reconciliation.

Due to the pandemic, the Reclaiming Shingwauk Project is currently closed to the general public. Krista McCracken is available, however to receive any documents or cultural items that a person may wish to contribute. McCracken will take great care with the items, and return to a person, should they prefer the document be copied. She can be reached through the Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall Project website. 

‘The Shingwauk School, or “Teaching Wigwam”, was originally envisaged by the great Ojibway Chief Shingwaukonse (1773-1854), also known as Shingwauk, as a crucible for cross-cultural understanding and for synthesis of traditional Anishnabek and modern European knowledge and learning systems. Commissioned in 1832 in co-operation with Canadian Government and Anglican Church partners as part of St. John’s Mission to the Ojibway, the Shingwauk School was opened in Sault Ste. Marie in 1833. It relocated to Garden River (1838-74), and to the current site as the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Industrial Homes (Shingwauk 1874-1935 and Wawanosh 1876/96-1935) and the Shingwauk Indian Residential School (1935-70). As part of Chief Shingwauk’s new strategy of Aboriginal rights, selfdetermination and modern community development, the School’s cross-cultural educational project was also regarded as essential to the restoration of cosmological balance and of social harmony between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians, and between both Peoples and the natural environment.’To learn more, go here

The Shingwauk Project is a cross-cultural research and educational development project of Algoma University and the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association (CSAA). It was founded in 1979 by Don Jackson in collaboration with Dr. Lloyd Bannerman of AUC, Chief Ron Boissoneau (1935-2000) of Garden River, Shingwauk Alumnus and Elder Dr. Dan Pine Sr. (1900-1992) of Garden River, and other former Shingwauk and Wawanosh students and friends who recognized the profound importance of the commitment to the Shingwauk Trust and the relationship with Canada’s First Nations that Algoma University assumed upon its relocation in 1971 to the site of the former Shingwauk and Wawanosh Indian Residential Schools.

Email Krista McCracken: [email protected]
Phone: 705-949-2301 ext. 4623
Mailing address: 1520 Queen St East | Sault Ste. Marie, ON Canada | P6A 2G4