On Wednesday, September 13, The Witness Blanket: Pieces of History opening ceremony was held in Evered Hall in the Student Union Building.
The installation was created by Carey Newman (traditional name Ha-yalth-kingeme), a Canadian artist of British, Kwagiluth, and Salish descent. His project, which uses reclaimed objects from abandoned residential schools, is meant to weave together a narrative of survivors, and to continue to call attention to the brutal treatment that many Indigenous witnessed during their time there.
Attendees were asked to refrain from taking photographs or videos of the ceremony, as they are not a part of traditional oral practice. Instead, four individuals were called upon to be witnesses to the event. The crowd was silent as each witness spoke, telling personal accounts of their time in residential schools and how it affected them then, and how it continues to affect them now. Those who had not personally experienced time in a residential school showed their support through kind words, and acknowledgment of the atrocities that had occurred.
However, everyone that was in attendance was an unofficial witness; they all observed the ceremony, somberly and respectfully, and will be able to tell the story of it to those who were not present. By being a witness to this ceremony, and to the installation, individuals are able to pay tribute to those affected by residential schools, and to continue the narrative, rather than have it lost and forgotten.
Despite the overwhelming number of attendees at the ceremony, it is important to note that witnesses are not required; events, both wonderful and tragic, occur all the time without witnesses. A lack of witnesses does not make something any less real.
Carey Newman has also created The Witness Blanket app, which allows users to see the entire project virtually from their phone, as well as identify specific information from pieces of the exhibit, such as the object’s original location.
The exhibit runs from September 13 to November 8, and can be found in Evered Hall in the SUB.