Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Learning tent gives visitors a chance to revisit history

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ONE particular tent at The Forks aims to put the truth in Truth and Reconciliation.

Unlike many neighbouring events where the content is emotional, the learning tent offers knowledge and information through displays, including photos, slide shows and interactive maps.

Tourists, school survivors and staff intermingle within the small space to learn and, for some, to relive the residential school experience.

"We are learning just as much as the survivors are," said Helen Harrison, a TRC researcher. "This is a co-operative process, with each of us learning from the other."

Trevor Williams, 19, was on his lunch break when he stumbled upon the learning tent.

He said he was surprised at the scope of information and history he was unaware of.

"I vaguely remember learning about residential schools in class," said Williams. "But I never knew how bad it really was."

An interactive map of Manitoba's residential school sites allows survivors and relatives to write their stories on the display.

One person circled a school site and wrote, "friend ran away, he never came home, they said he died in a hospital."

These stories of loss and pain are difficult for some survivors, said Harrison, but they also provide invaluable knowledge for people who want to learn about the residential school experience.

"We are getting a lot of people who are walking in who didn't even know it was happening," said Harrison. "It is eye-opening for them."

Survivors and visitors are also able to look at childhood photos in albums provided by the United Church archivists.

Pages upon pages of smiling children contradict the pain underneath, said archivist Jennifer Ching.

"It's hard, looking at these photos and knowing what happened to these seemingly happy kids," said Ching.

Harrison said the process of identifying themselves can hold an element of catharsis for survivors.

"It's like they're reclaiming a piece of their history," said Harrison.

From 2 p.m to 4 p.m today, there is a TRC Survivor Committee that speaks about their experiences at residential schools.

britt.harvey@freepress.mb.ca

 

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 19, 2010 A5

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