Mike Pinay, Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School, 1953-1963. Pinay says, “It was the worst ten years of my life. I was away from my family from the age of 6 to 16. How do you learn about relationships, how do you learn about family? I didn’t know what love was. We weren’t even known by names back then; I was a number … 73.” Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015. Add this image to a lesson

Photojournalist Daniella Zalcman, who has produced multiple Pulitzer Center-supported series of photographs surrounding human rights issues, has won the 2016 FotoEvidence Book Award for documenting social injustice. “Signs of Your Identity” explores the legacy of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools, which began operation in the late 1800s.

Attendance at the schools was mandatory, and agents would regularly visit reserves to take children as young as two or three from their communities. Many of them wouldn’t see their families again for the next decade. These students were punished for speaking their native languages or observing indigenous traditions. In interviews with the people she met, Zalcman heard stories of routine sexual and physical assault.

The FotoEvidence competition recognizes "a documentary photographer whose project demonstrates courage and commitment in addressing a violation of human rights, a significant injustice or an assault on human dignity." Zalcman's photography will be published in a book as part of a series of FotoEvidence books dedicated to the work of photographers whose commitment and courage create an awareness of social injustice.

For her documentary project, Zalcman decided to created a series of double exposure portraits of Residential School survivors.

"This is a project about history, and memory, and trauma. Children who were taken from their families grew up not knowing how to express love. Languages were forgotten, cultural traditions lost," Zalcman said in an interview with FotoEvidence when asked about why she used the double exposure technique.

"There are only so many times the human psyche can withstand being told the immutable signposts of one's identity are despicable before it starts to feel true. But while I think the legacy of intergenerational suffering is one of the most important elements of this story, that’s not what I wanted to photograph," Zalcman said. "That would require showing addiction, and poverty, and the lowest moments in some of my subjects’ lives. This work is about the cause, not the effect, of cultural genocide — and I hope the multiple exposures reveal something about the echoes of past injustices."

The Pulitzer Center has continued its support for Zalcman's reporting and photography, with her latest project about at-risk LGBT asylum seekers from former British protectorates.

Project

For more than a century, many western governments operated a network of Indian Residential Schools that were meant to assimilate young indigenous students into mainstream European culture. The results were devastating.

Recently

"I ran away 27 times," said Marcel Ellery, who attended the Marieval Indian Residential School from 1987-1990. "But the (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) always found us eventually. When I got out, I turned to booze because of the abuse. I drank to suppress what had happened to me, to deal with my anger, to deal with my pain, to forget. Ending up in jail was easy, because I'd already been there." Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.
July 22, 2016 /
Daniella Zalcman
"Signs of Identity" is recognized for Zalcman's "creative approach" to documenting the lives of those who survived Canada's Indian Residential Schools.
Gary Nelson
July 3, 2016 / Smithsonian
Daniella Zalcman
Photographer Daniella Zalcman explores how native populations had a new nation foisted upon them