Witness Blanket exhibit honours residential school history and reconciliation

Indigenous Initiatives

Witness Blanket exhibit honours residential school history and reconciliation

Queen’s Stauffer Library hosts the art installation from Canada’s Museum of Human Rights that travels across the country to help tell the tale of Indigenous resilience and reconciliation.

April 23, 2024


Witness Blanket on display in Stauffer Library

The Witness Blanket art installation is open for visitors in Stauffer Library’s second floor Fireplace Reading Room until the first week of June 2024.

Queen’s University Library is now host of the Witness Blanket, a powerful, large-scale art piece on loan from Canada’s Museum of Human Rights that represents Indigenous resilience and symbolizes ongoing reconciliation efforts. Inspired by a traditional woven blanket, the piece is crafted from over 800 items reclaimed from residential schools, churches, government buildings, and traditional and cultural structures from across Canada. It invites viewers to bear witness to learn this important history and ensure that it is not forgotten. 

The exhibition honours more than 150,000 Indigenous children who were forced into residential schools between 1870 and 1996, seeks to build a better understanding of Canada’s past, and re-affirms our commitment to a more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and anti-racist society. 

“Libraries have a responsibility to share the true history of what happened at residential schools, as well as the ongoing, intergenerational trauma they caused,” says Mark Asberg, Vice-Provost and University Librarian. “We are honoured to welcome the Witness Blanket to Queen’s and encourage campus community members to engage with this important opportunity to learn, and to support both Canada’s calls to action, as well as our university’s own commitment to truth and reconciliation.” 

The piece was created by master carver Carey Newman (Hayalthkin’geme). He and his team collected items—including letters, photos, books, clothing, building fragments, and other items—from sites in every province and territory in Canada, travelling a combined 200,000 kilometres, visiting 77 communities, and meeting with more than 10,000 people. Each object comprising the Witness Blanket represents a story from a specific time and place, and together they tell a sweeping history of residential schools and Indigenous experiences. 

“There is a large importance in allowing Indigenous history, Indigenous voices and Indigenous artists to reclaim space and narratives, especially in institutions like Queen’s,” says Mika Henry, Acting Associate Director, Office of Indigenous Initiatives. “While the history of Canada’s residential school system is a story of cultural genocide and colonialism, this art exhibit is highlighting more narratives—sharing stories from far and wide as an act of reclamation and resurgence.” 

This is the first time the Witness Blanket has been exhibited at Queen’s. All members of the Queen’s and Kingston communities are welcome to visit the display during regular library hours. It will be on display in Stauffer Library’s second floor Fireplace Reading Room until the first week of June 2024, before it travels to its next destination. 

Learn more about the Witness Blanket and about Indigenous Initiatives at Queen’s

If you are a residential school survivor or family member in need of emotional support, a national crisis phone line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Community Stories
Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
Reduced Inequality