Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall Exhibition

by Jonathan Dewar

I am very pleased to be able to share an update on a nearly completed exhibition project that has been six years in the making, and which was supported, in part, by the Creative Conciliations project.

Shortly after the closure in 1970 of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School, and in the early years of Algoma University College’s relocation to the present site, Residential School Survivors connected to the Shingwauk School, their families and communities, and their allies were catalysts in the growing Healing Movement, culminating in the development of the Shingwauk Project in 1979, and the Shingwauk Reunion in 1981.

From these watershed events began the decades-long work of organizing, collecting, displaying, conducting research, and educating the public that led to the establishment of the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association (CSAA) and the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre (SRSC), as the Shingwauk project is now known.

In 2012, the CSAA received funding from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which allowed it and its partners, notably Algoma University and Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig, to hold a large Shingwauk Gathering & Conference – the first of several annual events hosted by the SRSC.

In my role as Director of the SRSC and Special Advisor to the President at Algoma University (2012-16), my SRSC colleagues and I arranged to have several visiting exhibitions of Residential Schools-related material on display at this event, to bolster the SRSC’s longstanding efforts to display and celebrate the Shingwauk collections. This included the seminal Where Are the Children?, curated by Jeff Thomas.

At this event, and more formally at the one that followed in 2013, I asked the Survivors – members of the CSAA and some from the wider Survivor community – how they would like to see their stories told on the walls – and more broadly, throughout the site – of the former Shingwauk School. This was the start of a five-year, iterative exhibition development process, led by the SRSC and the CSAA, to raise funds, develop concepts, and return each year to the Shingwauk Gathering & Conference to refine and further develop plans for a museum-quality exhibition that would further the Survivors’ efforts to celebrate resiliency and reclaim Shingwauk Hall – and beyond.

With funding from the Aboriginal Healing Foundation (2012-14), the SSHRC-funded Creative Conciliations project (2013-18), and Canadian Heritage’s Museums Assistance Program (2014-16, 2016-18), the Survivor community, staff of the SRSC, and the creative team (led by me, along with my collaborators Trina-Cooper Bolam and Jeff Thomas) developed Healing and Reconciliation Through Education, a multi-phase, comprehensive exhibition plan that includes the first phase, Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall, which will be opened in ceremony August 3, 2018, at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

The exhibition has three major galleries: ““From Teaching Wigwam to Residential School;” “Life at Shingwauk Home: An Indian Residential School;” and “We are all Children of Shingwauk.” Located on the main floor of Shingwauk Hall, the exhibition completely transforms the space and explores the 110 years of history of the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Indian Residential Schools through their industrial and residential phases.

It was designed with Survivors to honour their experiences and resilience and brings the history of Chief Shingwauk’s vision, and of the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Schools, to Canadians. Most of all, it further serves the mandate they gave the SRSC – “sharing, healing, and learning” – and is part of their longstanding efforts as leaders working to advance reconciliation.

As Shirley Horn, one of our collaborators and a founding member of the CSAA, who now serves as Algoma University’s Chancellor, says in the promotional material for the exhibition launch, “The exhibition is a dream come true. The Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association have been discussing creating such a space for a long time. This new exhibition helps reflect the whole story of those who lived through the residential school era and helps fellow Survivors move toward healing and reconciliation.”

The Creative Conciliations project allowed the SRSC to host three Shingwauk Gatherings (2013-15), which was instrumental in allowing us the time and space with Survivors to work through concepts and move into content and design. And, to close out our Creative Conciliations work, the grant is again supporting a Gathering this summer – this time to launch the first phase of the larger exhibition project and to continue developing the subsequent phases.

Chi miigwetch to Keavy, Ashok, David, and Dylan for your support!