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Settler Education 101: The Witness Blanket

'Living Work of Art' depicts the history and legacy of Residential Schools


The Witness Blanket is an art installation pieced together from hundreds of items reclaimed from 77 residential schools, churches, government buildings and other structures from every corner of this country. Photographs, food bowls, shoes and hockey skates are displayed alongside piano keys, graduation certificates and even braids of human hair, all combining to give a sense of both the history and the lasting legacy left by residential schools in Canada.


Artist Carey Newman, whose traditional name is Hayalthkin’geme, is a multi-disciplinary Indigenous artist, master carver, filmmaker, author and public speaker. Inspired by woven blankets, traditionally symbols of comfort and safety, Newman gathered 889 objects into the Witness Blanket, each representing a part of one survivor's personal experience with residential schools.


Referring to the varied and often disturbing elements of the Witness Blanket, Newman says: "Some of them are heart-wrenching, some are courageous. All speak to the strength and resilience of Indigenous people and cultures."


Newman hails from BC, and is of Kwakwak’awakw and Coast Salish heritage on his father's side. Through his mother his ancestors are settlers of English, Irish and Scottish heritage. His father is a residential school survivor.


The Witness Blanket is currently undergoing conservation at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) in Winnipeg, Manitoba. A touring replica of Newman's original artwork is currently on display inside the main hall of the West Vancouver Memorial Library. This exhibition was developed by the artist in collaboration with the CMHR. A detailed online exploration of the original artwork can be found online HERE.


Newman, along with co-author Kirstie Hudson, has also written The Witness Blanket: Truth, Art and Reconciliation (Orca Books, 2022), available in hardcover and a fully accessible e-book version.


The exhibition will run through March 11 at the West Vancouver Memorial Library.


Content warning: the Witness Blanket and its stories address themes of racism and cruelty. If you are a Residential School Survivor or family member in need of support, a national crisis line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week: 1.866.925.4419.



Settler Education 101 is a monthly series of articles aimed at addressing issues pertaining to Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. The Watershed welcomes your thoughts. Please leave your comments below, or send them to editor@lionsbaywatershed.ca



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