The Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford is successfully reinventing itself to add to the Indian Residential School story.
The Centre, a cultural and heritage museum housed in what was once the Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School, was an example showcased at a heritage conference session in Hamilton over the weekend on how historic sites are reinventing themselves in the face of financial pressures and shifting audiences.
Executive-director Janis Montour said that these days, “There is a need and a desire to hear about the residential schools.”
Youth are particularly interested, because of the truth and reconciliation commission findings, and the change in school curriculum, she said.
Community feedback made it clear people wanted the massive four-storey building preserved despite roof leaks in 2013 that caused extensive damaged to the residential school dormitory. And the Centre got a lot of financial support recently from governments to do so, she said.
Montour said it has also been important to seek the guidance of the survivors who went to the school and how they’d like to see it interpreted.
“We don’t make a step without them. We want to know what narrative they want and to be respectful …” she said. “First and foremost is the voices that were silenced … History needs to be told by the people who experienced it”.
The Centre’s Save the Evidence Campaign to restore the longest running residential school in Canada can be viewed on Saving the Evidence on YouTube and at woodland-centre.on.ca.
The school was started in 1828, became a boarding school in 1834 and by 1872, only English could be spoken and the children were not allowed to see family members for two years, Montour said. By 1945, food portions were inadequate and many female survivors have reported sexual abuse during that time, she added.
The school was closed in 1970.
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