State of emergency declared. See Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) updates and check for location, program and service closures, cancellations and changes.

Witness Blanket Art Installation Visits Nova Scotia

An art installation sculpturally and symbolically woven into a blanket made of cedar wood is on display at Millbrook Cultural and Heritage Centre near Truro beginning on October 19.

The Witness Blanket, a universal symbol of remembrance and protection, was created by First Nations artist Carey Newman. It supports and connects items that represent the Indian residential school system.

“I created this monument to reflect the strength of my people and, as more people experience and stand witness to this piece of Canadian and First Nations history, it is my hope they will be affected in some way,” said Mr. Newman.

“The fact that the blanket is now travelling the country and being shared and experienced by people in every province and territory — people who may or may not know about what really happened to First Nations people, is a humbling experience for me as an artist.”

Mr. Newman first envisioned the piece partially in response to his father’s experiences in residential school — experiences his father was reluctant to share. Not wanting that history to be lost, he saw an opportunity to create a tangible reminder.

In 2013, he and a small team travelled across the country visiting communities and events, such as the Truth and Reconciliation hearings, to share his vision for the blanket and to encourage people to provide items for the project. They collected letters and photographs, children’s shoes, pieces of former schools, and even shorn braids.

The cedar frames also hold more than 800 objects collected from residential schools, churches, government buildings, friendship centres, band offices, and universities from across Canada.

The Government of Nova Scotia provided plaster rosettes from the Legislative Chamber at Province House and door handles from Government House.

“We’re proud to have partnered with Mi’kmaq communities to bring the Witness Blanket to Nova Scotia,” said Tony Ince, Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage. “We want to ensure all Nova Scotians have more opportunities to learn about our shared history, including Aboriginal culture and heritage.”

The project is on a seven-year tour of the country. It arrived in Nova Scotia in mid-September at Cape Breton University, hosted by Unama’ki College and the CBU Art Gallery before moving to Millbrook Culture Heritage Centre in mid-October. It will remain in Millbrook until November 25.

“I am proud that the community of Millbrook is able to host this national memorial,” said Millbrook Chief Bob Gloade. “Residential schools had a devastating impact on Mi’kmaq communities. Events such as this, held in the Millbrook Cultural and Heritage Centre is not only part of reconciliation but demonstrates to all that our culture is thriving. I encourage all Nova Scotians to take the time to visit it.”

The blanket structure is more than two metres high and 12 metres long. A multi-media presentation helps connect viewers to the blanket in a personal way. The blanket is a national monument testifying to the atrocities of the Indian Residential Schools. However, as a blanket, it also represents and demonstrates that healing has begun and will continue.

I created this monument to reflect the strength of my people and, as more people experience and stand witness to this piece of Canadian and First Nations history, it is my hope they will be affected in some way.