Into the light

Published March 15, 2011

A lawyer who handles residential school cases, by Alex Zander of Prince George, B.C. Submitted to the Embracing the Light from Darkness, a national photography project.

“When words become unclear, I will focus with photographs.”

This quote, from the late American photographer and environmentalist, Ansel Adams, is on the website of Embracing Light from the Darkness, a national photographic essay project launched recently in the Anglican diocese of British Columbia.

Organizers say it sums up why they have chosen photography as a medium for inviting Canadians to “thoughtfully consider” how the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools can be expressed, and how a future “where the past is healed, reconciled and restored” can be achieved.

“Many of life’s deepest sorrows and greatest triumphs evade expression through words,” said Mary Rogers, choir director of The Bishop’s Gospel Choir of British Columbia, which initiated the project, in an e-mail interview. “Photography is a visual medium that allows for such a freedom of expression. It also allows people of all ages and languages to participate, making this project truly national in its approach.”

Aside from submitting photographs, Canadians are also invited to financially support the Bishop’s Gospel Choir’s Aboriginal Bursary and the First Nations Computer Technology Fund. The Fund provides laptop computers and printers to post-secondary students who are in financial need and are residents of the diocese of British Columbia. The Bursary provides financial aid to post-secondary students.

The photography project was conceived when the Choir saw the positive impact that the Fund and the Bursary projects had. “…We realized that more could and should be done to support aboriginal students,”said Rogers. “We wanted to develop a nationwide initiative that would bring awareness to the needs of aboriginal youth following the dark years of the residential school school system. We wanted this project to both educate and promote healing by enabling Canadians to respond in a meaningful way…”

Advances in Internet technology and the availability of affordable digital cameras will also allow almost anyone to participate in the project, said Rogers.

The diocesan bishop of British Columbia, James Cowan, has expressed the hope that the project “will be a positive step in forging a new relationship between aboriginal peoples and other Canadians…”

Bishop Cowan noted that the diocese was part of the “dark chapter of Canadian history” that saw aboriginal children being taken away from their homes and moved to residential schools aimed at assimilating them.

The Anglican Church of Canada, on behalf of the Government of Canada, operated the St. Michael’s Residential School of Alert Bay on Vancouver Island. “This institution, like many others across the country, deprived aboriginal children of their childhoods and their culture. As a result, the impact of the Canadian residential school system continues to be felt by aboriginal youth,” said Bishop Cowan in a letter sent to parishioners. “We must do what we can to assist and support the rebuilding and strengthening of First Nations communities and families.”

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, has expressed his support for the project, calling it “a good news story.” It also “represents genuine commitment for a future marked by hope,” said Archbishop Hiltz in a letter addressed to Canadians.

“The Anglican Church of Canada was a part of the dark years of the Canadian Indian Residential School system,” he said. “Rather than collaborating with aboriginal leaders and communities to develop an integrated educational system that embraced and supported aboriginal children and their heritage, the residential school system tore families and cultures apart. Languages, traditions, and social structures were erased, dishonoured and disintegrated…” Subsequent generations of aboriginal youth have been deeply affected by the impact of the schools system experience, he added. “…Healing and repairing this relationship will require education, awareness, and an increased understanding of the legacy that is still being felt by so many people across the country.”

For more information on how to submit photographs and how to support the Aboriginal Bursary and the First Nations Computer Technology Fund, visit or send an email to [email protected]


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