At the Kelowna Art Gallery, proudly stands an intricately woven blanket representing Canada’s dark past. It is a visual representation of the residential schools and the atrocities inflicted on the students, called the Witness cover.
Indigenous artist and master carver, Carey Newman, who also goes by his traditional name of Hayalthkin’geme, created the 40-foot-long blanket made of western red cedar and various objects to share what happened to survivors and their families, and to make it known to the country and the world.
“I landed on making a blanket out of solid objects collected from residential school sites and eventually this idea expanded to include objects from churches, government buildings and finally cultural buildings – places where we see the resurgence of Indigenous culture. . That’s what makes up the more than 886 pieces we’ve collected,” Hayalthkin’geme said.
The original cover is in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, MB, where it is being restored. However, the traveling replica is in the Kelowna Art Gallery. Visitors can download a free app to their smartphone called “Witness Blanket” to learn more about each part of the facility.
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“With the app, they get a lot more information about where [each object] comes because there were 77 communities across Canada that contributed coverage here,” said Nataley Nagy, Executive Director of the Kelowna Art Gallery.
The witness blanket features braids of hair, hockey skates, moccasins, a drum, a Métis sash, and the door to the infirmary at St. Michael’s boarding school in Alert Bay.
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“The nature of these pieces being everyday objects that we all come across. We all have doorknobs, we all have hair, so a lot of us have memories that are attached to hockey skates or the keys of piano or moccasins,” Hayalthkin’geme said.
“The objects on the cover are not mysteries. These are things we know about and might have our own sentimental ideas about. And when those two things converge, when our feelings about time converge with the reality of some of the terrible stories and atrocities… attached to some of these items on the witness blanket, that creates a connection.
There is a documentary on Witness cover available for free to anyone who wants to learn more at www.humanrights.ca Hayalthkin’geme is on social media.
the Witness Coverage: Reproduction on Tour will be at the Kelowna Art Gallery from January 15 to April 10.