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Nii Ndahlohke / I Work

September 26, 2023 - June 25, 2024

Third Floor

Donna Noah Wulaapasihkan, 2021. Size 11 2-cut beads, size 11 Miyuki Delica beads, deer hide, gold cones, gold connector hoops, thread.

 

Nii Ndahlohke / I Work brings together existing works and new commissions by First Nations artists. The show explores the forced labour of students at Mount Elgin Industrial School (1851-1946).

Located on the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation near the Thames River, Mount Elgin is the closest residential school to Windsor. Mount Elgin was part of system of federal education that sought to assimilate First Nations people by removing children from their parents and communities. The day-to-day management of Mount Elgin was the responsibility of the United Church of Canada (initially the Methodist Church). Students spent only half of the day in the classroom and half of the day working to maintain the school either on the school’s farm or in the kitchen and laundry. Because of federal underfunding and church mismanagement, Mount Elgin and other residential schools like it were unsafe, relied too heavily on student work, and had cruel practices of enforcing order in these miserable conditions. In a 1942 report, the superintendent of Welfare and Training described Mount Elgin’s buildings as “the most dilapidated structures that [they had] ever inspected,” prompting the school to close four years later. The last residential school closed as recently as 1996.

By focusing on the theme of work, this exhibition sheds light on an overlooked but important aspect of daily life shared by all residential school students – forced labour – and reflects on the role it played in furthering inequality and injustices faced by First Nations in Canada. The art presented in this exhibition explores different types of work done by Mount Elgin students and the impacts that it had on their well-being at the school and beyond its walls. This work shaped and continues to shape the lives of students and survivors, as well as the lives of their families and descendants.

This exhibition is inspired by the stories and life of Grandma Norma (Logan) Richter and a book by the Munsee Delaware Language and History Group called Nii Ndahlohke: Boys’ and Girls’ Work at Mount Elgin Industrial School, 1890-1915. Each piece in the show was created by an artist from communities whose children were sent to the Mount Elgin Industrial School and they bring their historical knowledge to the work they created. In addition, artists were given the same three historical resources about the school: Nii Ndahlohke, an archival film by the United Church about the school, and a brief narrative history of Mount Elgin. Crucially, these works tell stories of resilience and strength, producing knowledge about our past that foregrounds the everyday life of First Nations in southwestern Ontario since the mid-nineteenth century.

Participating artists are Kaia’tanoron Dumoulin Bush, Jessica Rachel Cook, Nancy Deleary, Gig Fisher, Vanessa Dion Fletcher, Judy McCallum, Donna Noah, Mo Thunder, and Meg Tucker.

 

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

Indigenous at AWE is generously supported by The Sheila and Paul Martin Foundation.

Curated by Mary Jane McCallum and Julie Rae Tucker

This project was supported in part by funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

About The Curator

Mary Jane Logan McCallum is Professor of History at the University of Winnipeg and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous People, History and Archives. McCallum leads a project studying modern Indigenous histories of tuberculosis in Manitoba, is a board member of ShekonNeechie: An Indigenous History Website, and her most recent book is Nii Ndahlohke: Boys’ and Girls’ Work at Mount Elgin Industrial School 1890-1915. She is a band member of the Munsee Delaware Nation.

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Nii Ndahlohke / I Work

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