Reflections from Legacy Staff
My name is Katie Hughes. I was born in Victoria, BC to a Canadian dad and Australian mum, both of whom are a mixture of British ancestry. I have lived here my whole life, but I keenly feel, that while this place is my home, I am a visitor and a guest on this traditional land of the Songhees, Esquimalt and WSANEC peoples.
I have been working in museums for almost nine years, with the last four of these spent at the University of Victoria Legacy Art Galleries. With every exhibition that we plan and produce, we collaborate and build relationships with people.
One afternoon in the summer of 2015, I was invited by my colleague to tag along with her to the BC Elder’s Gathering hosted by Tsawout First Nation. Andrea Walsh was there with several Survivors who were showing their artwork in a small elementary school classroom. Though I grew up on the West Coast, I had not at that time attended many significant Indigenous cultural events and I immediately felt shy and humbled. I was welcomed to sit and talk with a woman who was showing her photo albums at a small table where children would normally sit during the school year.
Building the photo albums was her way of recreating the time that she had spent at the Alberni Residential School as a child. She spoke with me for more than two hours and told me stories about her time at the school and the people she knew. These days, she travels to gatherings where she connects with others from the school and collects their photos and memories, which she combines with her own to recreate her history and theirs through the creation of the ever-evolving photo albums. She told me that she did this so that she could remember, because she had been separated from her family at the school and had lost that sense of collective memory that many of us share with our siblings, parents and extended family.
Since then I have had other one-on-one conversations with Survivors. Each time, I have been caught off guard by how freely these generous people have shared many of their most unpleasant experiences with me, a stranger. And each time, I know that it is an honour to hear them and that I am lucky to witness their stories.
Over the last couple of years, I have become more and more aware of the movement that is building in Canada. Perhaps more than most, I am exposed to Indigenous stories and culture because of where I work. Both at the University and at Legacy, we are taking the TRC’s “Calls to Action” to heart and so much of the work that we do is intended to honour that call. I am more aware of Indigenous people and their stories than ever before. Something is brewing and I am proud to be a part of it through the work that we do through collaborating with community to produce exhibitions that tell these stories to a wider audience.
Katie Hughes is the Curatorial & Gallery Services Assistant at the University of Victoria’s Legacy Art Galleries
My name is Gillian Booth. I was born a visitor on Lekwungan territory as was my mother. My grandparents on both sides immigrated to Canada from England in the 1920s. I have deep gratitude every day for the opportunity to live and learn on the traditional territories of the Lekwungan speaking peoples.
I am especially honoured to be working with the University of Victoria Legacy Galleries as an educator helping visitors engage in meaningful ways with the exhibition There Is Truth Here. It is a rare privilege to witness artwork shared by Survivors of Indian Residential Schools and Day Schools. The stories and images in this exhibition are first hand depictions of the children’s creative experiences during the time they were in school. They take me to a place of wonder and awe about who each child was.
The Legacy Galleries has a mandate to create exhibitions around issues that matter. We often exhibit artwork by First Nations artists and we hope that we are creating space for previously silenced voices to emerge. And, I wonder, after decades of Indigenous voices falling on deaf ears, how will these stories be received by gallery visitors? If these stories have been silenced until now, what do we need to do today to fully and respectfully see, hear, and feel the stories lived by children who were in Residential and Day Schools? How do we move beyond our habit of ignorance and live into the imperative to witness? How can I witness in a good way? Before I can step out and take responsibility for what I see and hear, I need to be an authentic and wholehearted witness.
About 10 years ago, I was walking with a friend and we passed some street people sitting on a bench. My friend asked why I was looking away. I realized what I was turning away from was exactly what I needed to witness to fully live in this place. I think about all the people who say they didn’t know about Residential Schools. I think about driving out West Saanich Rd. through three different Indigenous communities for most of my life and, each time, I looked away. I didn’t want to see and I didn’t know how to witness what I was seeing with my whole being.
For me, to witness is a practice of being in the world authentically. It is a practice of taking in what I see, feel and hear in a full way. In a movement practice I do that includes a witness, there have been studies that show the quality of the attention held by the witness affects how the mover moves. The attention we give to the world around us, the way we witness, contributes to healing our relationships to the world around us. The way we witness the art work in this exhibition is an act of reconciliation and healing.
In the article, Imaginary Spaces of Conciliation and Reconciliation (West Coast Line, 2012, 28-38), author Métis artist and curator David Garneau says:
“The colonial attitude, including its academic branch, is characterized by a drive to see, to traverse, to know, to translate (to make equivalent), to own and to exploit. It is based on the belief that everything should be accessible, is ultimately comprehensible, and a potential commodity or resource…”
Museums have a reputation of offering images and objects up for entertainment, for the passing whim of the visitor. Galleries have a history of exploitation driven by the desire to know and to own. The artworks in There Is Truth Here are not here solely for visitor consumption. Visiting this exhibition is an opportunity to witness open-heartedly and to consider what our responsibility is as visitors in having seen, heard and felt these stories.
Gillan Booth is the Academic and Community Programs Coordinator at the University of Victoria’s Legacy Art Galleries