Exhibit representing residential school survivors to be digitized at CMHR

An exhibit that opened earlier this year at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) in Winnipeg is getting a boost to digitize the experience.

The Witness Blanket exhibit, which represents the stories of residential school survivors, recently got a boost from major cell phone service provider Telus.

More than 800 items make up the witness blanket, and Telus is committing $1 million to assist in creating a digital platform for the exhibit.

“We feel privileged to be able to leverage our world-leading technology to support the development and promotion of the Digital Witness Blanket, a critical and long-overdue national monument,” said Darren Entwistle, Telus president, and CEO in a statement.

There is also a $100,000 gift being added from the Entwistle Family Foundation.

“Our goal is to create as close an experience to being able to witness the witness blanket itself as you see it here in the gallery but we hope what people will take away is some understanding. We hope they’ll feel something, that they’ll be impacted by the stories of those survivors and that they’ll do something with that information, that they’ll change the way that they work, that they’ll decolonize the way that they think and bring us closer together and connect us as a community,” said CMHR CEO Isha Khan.

“It’s an opportunity really for us to expand the reach of the stories that are contained within the blanket and really to educate Canadians about the truth of our history move us forward to where we want to go as a country.”

The piece was created by Coast Salish master carver Carey Newman.

In 2019 Newman entered into an agreement with the museum in Winnipeg to preserve the large piece. For years the blanket was on a traveling tour but wear and tear from that prompted Newman to halt the tour.

He says this investment will further ensure the stories of survivors are not forgotten.

“In this digital format, we’ll be able to tell more stories so there’s that aspect of it right, just being able to hear in the words of survivors about various atrocities that occurred in residential school, that’s one of the things I think is a takeaway from this,” he said.

“What an online platform enables is for us to be responsive, for this to be a living documentation of this history, maybe more so, much more so than the physical blanket.”

The digital exhibit will also feature learning resources for teachers and students and eventually lead into virtual reality.

“The idea being that students and adults alike will learn about the truth of our past, will hear from survivors. It is a great honour to be entrusted with those stories and that’s what the blanket is about and so that’s an opportunity for people to access the testimony, the stories of those survivors that they wouldn’t be able to otherwise,” Khan said.

The finished platform is set to launch in 2022.


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