Last night, Marcia, Tanya, and I attended the opening reception of the Witness Blanket exhibit at the West Vancouver Library. Each of us experienced the evening in our own way, but we were all struck by the gracious words of greeting given by Squamish elder, Skwetsimeltxw Willard Joseph, and flute player Arnie (Lek’hoosh) Leon of the Sts’ailes Nation. The audience was mostly Caucasian, and as white non-Indigenous residents of Canada, I thought about how much work we still need to do to repair the harms that were done, and yet, Arnie's words to us were, "Don't blame yourselves." Instead, he thanked us several times, for being there as witnesses- a sign of our willingness to walk the path of reconciliation. The generosity of his spirit - which he also shared through his music - will stay with me for a long, long time.
After taking some refreshments we walked along the length of the exhibit, studying and reading the direct reproductions of the artifacts of the original woven Witness Blanket. The story of one family was particularly heart-wrenching to read. On the morning a mother and father were packing a few belongings for their children before taking them to the residential school as they were instructed to do, the mother wondered out loud whether to pack a couple of family photographs for her two young children to help them remember their family. The father, knowing what lay ahead, replied, "No - the nuns will only take them away."
The exhibit runs until March 10, and all are welcome to take free, self-guided tours of the Witness Blanket during regular Library hours. You can also visit www.witnessblanked.ca for an interactive online exploration of the items and stories carried by the Witness Blanket.