When I consider the legacy of these schools, rooted in colonization which sought to steal and exploit the land, I confront the horror of the forcible removal of children. I confront a people taken from their communities and their ancestral lands.
Many tactics were used to remove, assimilate, and destroy our people. These included: starvation, disease, sterilization, and the creation of reservations via the Indian Act. It was designed to forbid us from gathering, dancing, and performing our ceremonies. It was designed to control, displace, and destroy our communities.
This piece is about a longing for home and for our lands. Indigenous people yearn to recover what was taken in these schools. We crave a place that is sacred. The image offers both a sense of removal, but also of returning. By bringing the land here, I am seeking to heal the violence imposed over many generations. We are taking back our ways, as their importance never left our spirit, even when broken and abused for a time. Our people must rediscover who we really are as Indigenous people. We must take back our identity and return to our ways. We must reconnect to our first family, which includes the earth, water, plants, and animals. This is the basis of our traditions, knowledge, and spiritual ways, which bind us with creation.
This photographic image, digitally printed on linen, is the continuation of a body of work entitled, Mending Ancestral Lands. Featured here is the image repeated seven times, representing future generations to come, but also the generations that have past. The repeated photographic image is of the James Bay Lowlands. It is an iconic landscape comprised of black spruce trees growing in the Muskeg.
In the research about the history of this Mohawk residential school, known as the Mush Hole, I have learned many of the children sent here came from James Bay communities. Omushkego and Eeyou Istchee Territory (West and East James Bay) is where my family is from. My late grandmother, Margaret (Wesley) Iserhoff, was forced to attend the Pelican Falls residential school near Sioux Lookout, Ontario. She was sent a long way from home.
Imagine being forced to attend a school, foreign in every way. The children yearned for their family and for their communities. The children yearned for their homes, their traditions, their culture, and their lands.
For more info on the artist, click here: Erika Iserhoff