Artwork draws mixed reactions

Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. Photo: Marites N. Sison
Published October 31, 2011

The federal government’s announcement that it will commemorate the legacy of the Indian residential schools in Canada with a permanent installation of artwork on Parliament Hill has drawn mixed reactions from aboriginal groups.

The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, called it a “symbolic gesture in the right direction.

“Steps like this can help generate mutual understanding and lead to lasting change and reconciliation between First Nations and other Canadians based on respect and trust,” said Atleo in a statement.

However, the chair of the Residential Schools Survivor Committee, is less sure. “I always think, ‘What’s behind this?'” Barney Williams told the Anglican Journal. “Why is it all of a sudden important?” said Williams, who pointed out that this announcement was news to survivors. “I wish government would consult with the survivors and not just say what it is,” he explained.

On Oct. 27, the minister of aboriginal affairs and northern development, John Duncan, announced that a panel of art experts will be established to recommend an aboriginal artist. This artist will then design a piece of stained glass artwork to be installed in Parliament Hill’s Centre Block.

The artwork will “honour the First Nations, Inuit and Metis children who attended residential schools and their families and communities who were profoundly impacted by the schools’ legacy,” said Duncan. In addition, he said, the artwork will provide parliamentarians and visitors with a chance to learn about the history of the schools and “Canada’s reconciliation efforts.”

The AFN’s Atlantic Regional Chief Morley Googoo also welcomed the announcement saying that “we must look to education as a key tool in reversing what it was once used for.”

The AFN said commemoration of the legacy of residential schools is part of the 2007 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The AFN is a signatory to the agreement, along with representatives of the federal government and the Anglican, Presbyterian, United and Roman Catholic churches that operated the schools.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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