On January 28, 1879, Nicholas Flood Davin was directed by Prime Minister John A. Macdonald to venture to Washington, D.C with a mission to become “acquainted with the establishment, cost and practical value of industrial schools among the Indian population in the United States” (Davin 1). In March, of that same year, Davin submitted his 13 recommendations to Macdonald in the “confidential” document titled the Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-Breeds. The Davin Report, as it is called, became the template for the residential school system in Canada.
The Davin Report, as a ligature in the colonial apparatus, connected the discourses of “aggressive civilization” and “educational direction” (Davin 1) and was installed as a means to assimilate Indigenous youth and children into the Euro-Canadian state which removed them from their land, communities, homes, and kin as it dismantled the ties to their cultures, languages, rituals, and names. This policy was enacted with consultation from neither Indigenous communities nor individuals who would carry its catastrophic and intergenerational consequences. The Davin Report is a legislative blueprint for the architectural foundation of the residential school system. In this work it will be confronted.
As an interdisciplinary communication scholar my method engages with research > practice. How then can this report be challenged? How can those who survived it speak back to its brutal ramifications? What would their recommendations be if they were at the table? Can these forms of government policies ever begin to be reconciled? Where does truth reside? What is my responsibility? For my contribution to the Mush Hole Project, I intend to make space for individuals who survived residential schools and for intergenerational survivors to be "at the table" and respond to not only the archival report, but also its manifestation in the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s Final Report. The table located in the former residential school’s boardroom is set up to replicate a meeting. The boardroom meeting table, at which decisions unfold, serves to mirror the ones Indigenous peoples were denied access to when creating, in this instance, the nineteenth-century residential school policies. Adjacent to the table, two 30” x 40" birch wood panels are hung. I will ask individuals who are non-Indigenous to move away from the table. I will then invite individuals from First Nations communities to participate in the Mush Hole Project. The affect of this exclusion to participants who are non-Indigenous is intended to be uncomfortable but critical in communicating meaning by renouncing expectations of privilege in order to polarize the work’s objective: acknowledgement and presenting a request for knowledge. Enduring the consequences of government polices, how do First Nations people imagine concepts such as “truth” and “reconciliation”? What does this language look like? Two birch wood panels, side by side, will be offered with paint and brushes for audience members from Indigenous communities to convey the the layered and complex meanings of truth and reconciliation.
The boardroom, boardroom table, birch wood, and a formal request for knowledge promises a location for an intervention that subverts the nineteenth-century colonial agenda and the ongoing erasure of agency embedded in government legislation and colonizing fallacies of “civilization” and “education.” Birch wood is a symbol of truth.
“I wanted to see those decision-making boardroom spaces shifted and transformed, in a sense, and have First Nations people, Six Nations, intergenerational survivors of residential schools present and acknowledged,” says Moll. “What are their recommendations? They weren’t consulted when this was created.”
For more info on the artist, click here: Sorouja Moll
Click here for the Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half Breeds, Ottawa, 1879