Lessons

Images and Identity: Analyzing Photographs as Primary Sources

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Mike Pinay, Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School, 1953-1963. Pinay says, “It was the worst ten years of my life. I was awayx 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.

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A drum circle sings at an Alderville First Nation event. Drumming is a deeply significant part of First Nations culture — the beat is thought to represent the pulse of Mother Nature, and many of the songs tell old folk stories and legends. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Tyler Eagle, Waswanipi First Nation. Paired with sweetgrass, one of the four sacred plants (cedar, sage and tobacco are the other three) used in First Nations rituals and ceremonies. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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MIKE PINAY, Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School (1953-1963).“It was the worst 10 years of my life. I was away from my family from the age of six to 16. 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.” Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

MIKE PINAY, Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School (1953-1963).“It was the worst 10 years of my life. I was away from my family from the age of six to 16. 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.” Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Zalcman photographed Grant Severeight who went to St. Phillips Indian Residential School in Kamsack, Saskatchewan. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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This is Mike Pinay, who attended the Qu'Appelle Indian Residential School from 1953-1963. "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." "Do you remember your number?" "73." Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Rodney Little Mustache's daily dose of antiretroviral medications. Rodney was an injecting drug user and worked in the sex trade when he lived in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, a neighborhood famous for hard drug use. His HIV diagnosis was a wake up call that he had to drastically change his lifestyle if he wanted to survive. This fall, Rodney began his first semester at the University of British Columbia. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Crystal Lavallee, Cree and Ojibwe. Paired with the Haldimand Proclamation, a treaty granting land to the Six Nations (Iroquois) for having fought with the British in the American Revolution. Today, Six Nations is the largest band in Canada. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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This is Jaime Rockthunder, who went to the Qu'Appelle Indian Residential School from 1990-1994. She was sexually assaulted during her time there, and her younger brother was raped by a classmate. Jaime said, “He finally told me about it, almost 20 years later, and he blamed me. All he could say is, ‘Why didn’t you protect me?’” One of the most haunting legacies of the residential school system is how much of the trauma transitioned into lateral violence — entire generations of indigenous children grew up without their families and frequently were subjected to unspeakable physical and sexual violence. That anger and hurt was often channelled into lashing out at each other, and, when they eventually had children of their own, the next generation as well. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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A photo of Doreen Bellaire's mother, Delina Commana (center), who attended a residential school in Spanish, Ontario for ten years. To protect her own family from ever having to go through the same experience, Delina left her reserve and moved into town to raise her children, never even telling them that they were First Nations. It wasn't until decades later that Doreen found out about her culture and her heritage. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Gary Edwards, Lac La Ronge First Nation. Paired with Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. About 14% of the Downtown Eastside's residents identify as indigenous, though they make up about 2.6% of Canada's overall population. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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This is Valerie Ewenin, who went to Muskowekwan Indian Residential School from 1965-1971. “I was brought up believing in the nature ways, burning sweetgrass, speaking Cree. And then I went to residential school and all that was taken away from me. And then later on I forgot it, too, and that was even worse.” Throughout Canada, it was standard procedure for the teachers, priests, nuns, and administrators who ran residential schools to punish students for speaking their own languages or trying to practice their own faith. For indigenous children who were taken away from their families as young as 3 or 4 and sometimes wouldn’t get to see their families again for as long as a decade, that meant a complete forced disassociation from their own cultures and identities. Imagine finally getting home to your reserve as a 14-year-old and realizing you can’t communicate with your parents anymore because they only speak Dene and you only speak English. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Ellie breaks down and hugs one of her best friends, Janet, thanking her for being one of the few people who doesn't judge her for being HIV positive. Even though Ellie is incredibly conscientious when it comes to safe injection drug use, she's frequently shunned and assaulted because of her status. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Cliff Standing Ready, Lakota. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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This is Jimmy Kevin Sayer, who went to Muskowekwan Indian Residential School from 1983-1984. Like so many others, he was sexually abused while a student. Both of his parents also went to Musekowekwan as children, and struggled with alcoholism throughout their adult lives. According to Jimmy, "I've spent half my life incarcerated, and I blame residential school for that. But I also know I have to give up my hate because I'm responsible for myself. I have three adult daughters and I was in jail for the duration of their childhoods — I have a 2-year-old son now and I need to be there for him. I have to be different." Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Eleanor Kay walks to her dealer's house in North Central, Regina. Ellie is a sex worker and an active injecting drug user, and was diagnosed with HIV in 2008. She probably contracted the virus from an ex-boyfriend who was routinely unfaithful to her and didn't disclose his status — he died in 2010, with Ellie in her aunt's basement, after they used together. Ellie is fiercely responsible about her health — she goes to a free needle exchange almost every day to get clean syringes for herself and her family, and frequently is responsible for looking after her uncles and brother and cousins when they're under the influence. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Eugene Harry, Malahat First Nation. Paired with the Mohawk Institute Residential School, one of the few original school structures remaining. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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This is Marcel Ellery, who went to Marieval Indian Residential School from 1987-1990. "I ran away 27 times. But the RCMP 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.

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Archie Weenie runs a sweat lodge on the north end of Regina, where First Nations people gather once a week to take part in the intense spiritual ritual. Participants gather in a dome-shaped hut (the lodge) around rocks that have been heated in a sacred fire (center) and are doused in water to create steam. During the sweat, people will pray, sing, drum, and share their stories. There are a few people struggling with substance addiction who regularly come to Archie's lodge. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Suzanne Smoke, Alderville First Nation. Paired with birds sitting on a telephone wire near Alderville First Nation in Ontario. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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This is Gary Edwards. He attended three residential schools in Saskatchewan between 1970-1978. He first told me about his memories from school when I met him last November, and they remain some of the most terrifying stories I've ever heard. One in particular has stayed with me -- Gary remembers that routinely, after mass, the priest and two assistants would lock the church doors, don gas masks (the old-fashioned canister kind), and open clear, seemingly empty mason jars. Minutes later, some students would begin to vomit, or seize, or to develop severe nosebleeds. To this day, he has not been able to figure out what was happening during those weekly sessions, but he believes that someone was using him and his schoolmates to test nerve gas. While that's hard to prove, for now, there are many documented cases of medical testing and forced sterilization of indigenous children while they were at residential school. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Tom Janvier, a two-spirited, HIV positive Dene man, has this flag in his Vancouver apartment. Tom went to residential school for three years before he told his parents he would kill himself if they made him return. While there, he rebelled by speaking his language and practicing his culture, even though he was routinely punished for disobeying the rules. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Rodney Little Mustache, Piikani Nation. Paired with the sacred fire from a sweat lodge in Saskatchewan. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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This is Grant Severight, who went to St. Phillips Indian Residential School in Kamsack, Saskatchewan from 1955-1964. He has spent decades working as a counsellor, helping other residential school survivors cope with their experiences. While the physical and sexual abuse that almost every indigenous child encountered is often the focus of the residential school experience, it's important to note that the act of forced assimilation is just as sinister and psychologically damaging. Students were punished if they spoke their native languages or tried to practice any indigenous customs. Their hair was cut, their clothes were taken away. At best, little children saw their parents two months of the year. At worst, they wouldn't see their families for a decade. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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John Mattson brings a smudge stick through a group a dancers about to perform at the Alderville First Nation drum social. Alderville, a reserve about an hour east of Toronto, is home to about 300 Ojibwe people. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Archie Weenie, Sweetgrass First Nation. Paired with clouds just off Canada's east coast. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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This is Edward Badger, who went to the Gordon Indian Residential School from 1975-1977. Gordon’s was the last residential school to close in Canada — it didn’t shut down until 1996. The Canadian government didn’t issue a formal apology until 2008. The title of this project, Signs of Your Identity, comes from an apology issued by the Anglican Church (much earlier, in 1993): “I accept and I confess before God and you, our failures in the residential schools. We failed you. We failed ourselves. We failed God. I am sorry, more than I can say, that we were part of a system which took you and your children from home and family. I am sorry, more than I can say, that we tried to remake you in our image, taking from you your language and the signs of your identity.” Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Dianne Campbell is HIV positive and still fights substance abuse, but is managing her addictions and regularly works as a peer mentor in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, where she lives. As a 3 year old, Dianne was adopted by white parents and grew up going to French immersion school and learning piano. By 16, she was placed into foster care and soon after ran away, turning to alcohol and drugs once she began living on the street. She had a son who was taken away from her by Children's Aid, who is now 26 and in jail. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Graham Paradis, Ojibwe and Métis. A letter from the Department of Indian Affairs, dated Dec. 15, 1921, that starts, "Sir — It is observed with alarm that the holding of dances by the Indians on their reserves is on the increase, and that these practices tend to disorganize the efforts which the Department is putting forth to make them self-supporting. I have, therefore, to direct you to use your utmost endeavours to dissuade the Indians from excessive indulgence in the practice of dancing. You should suppress any dances which cause waste of time, interfere with the occupation of the Indians, unsettle them for serious work, injure their health or encourage them in sloth and idleness." Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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This is Rick Pelletier, who attended the Qu'Appelle Indian Residential School from 1965-1966. He was 7 years old. He was being beaten so badly -- both by the nuns and by older students who themselves had been subjected to extreme physical violence -- that when his parents went to take him back for his second year, he ran away. Later, his parents enrolled him at a local public school in Regina, but the experience was just as bad. Being one of the only First Nations students at school meant he was the object of bullying and racism. "I still don't know which was worse." Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

Introduction: What Is a Primary Source?

  1. Have you heard the term primary sources before? In what context?
  2. What are examples of primary sources?
  3. What are the differences between primary and secondary sources?

Background: Residential Schools

  1. When you hear the term “residential school,” what do you think of?
  2. In Canada, this term refers to the Indian Residential Schools, a network designed to assimilate indigenous students into western Canadian culture. For over 100 years, young indigenous children were removed from their families and placed in church-run boarding schools where they were punished for participating in any indigenous cultural traditions and subjected to assault, abuse, and in some extreme cases, medical experimentation and sterilization.
  3. Read the first five articles from the resource section (listen to the audio from resource 5) and this essay from the University of British Columbia to learn more about the residential schools and their impact on Canada’s indigenous population.
  4. Use the following questions to spur discussion about the resources:
    1. Why did the Canadian government force indigenous children into residential schools? What was the goal of this educational policy?
    2. What were the conditions in the residential schools?
    3. What was and is the impact of this policy on Aboriginal families, children, and culture?
    4. Are these resources primary or secondary sources?
  5. Additional resources: The residential school network was one part of Canadian policy regulating indigenous peoples. To read more about Canada’s Indian Act, visit this webpage.

Activity: Analyzing Photographs as Primary Sources

  1. Assign each student or group of students a different province or region from the Library and Archives Canada’s photographic collection of Indian Residential School.
  2. Look at the photographs and analyze each one. Try to determine
    1. Who created it?
    2. When and where was it taken?
    3. What does it show? (What is it intended to show?)
    4. Why is it historically significant?
  3. Have the students share their analysis of the photos they reviewed.
  4. Use the following questions to spur discussion about the resources:
    1. Who were these photographs for and why were they taken?
    2. Based ONLY on these images, how would you view the Canadian Indian Residential Schools?
  5. View Daniella Zalcman’s photographs of survivors of residential schools. The images can be viewed via that final lesson plan resource, the New Yorker website, and the National Geographic website. Each resource contains some different images and information so look at all three.
  6. Look at the photographs and analyze each one.
    1. What technique does Daniella Zalcman use in these photographs and why?
    2. What does each photograph show? (What is it intended to show?)
    3. Who are these images intended for?
    4. Why are the photographs and the accompanying interview excerpts historically significant?
    5. What challenges did Daniella Zalcman grapple with while working on this project?
  7. Think about both sets of photographs.
    1. What are the similarities and differences between these photographs?
    2. Based on all the material you read and viewed as part of the lesson, how do you view the Canadian Indian Residential Schools?
    3. How do you reconcile the two sets of images along with the information presented in the background reading and interviews?
    4. Why is it important to view, read, or listen to more than one source?
    5. How can people documenting the past incorporate voices and experiences often overlooked in historical studies?
    6. How can a person engage with a person from another culture sensitively? How can we respect other people’s cultural backgrounds and their experiences?

Wrap-Up: Thinking Further

  1. Should the Canadian government mitigate the effect of residential school policy, and if so, how does it do that?
  2. How does what you learn today impact how you think about Aboriginal culture in Canada? Does it impact how you think about the Canadian government or religious groups that participated in the residential school system?
Educator Notes: 

This lesson plan can be modified to use written primary sources found on the Signs of Your Identity website. Assign students different government documents to read in class or for homework, and have them present their analysis to the class. This can be in place of analyzing images, or in addition, to the activities in this lesson plan.

This lesson plan is designed for a two-hour class. The lesson could be divided over two days, one day to read and discuss and one day for analysis and presentation, or reading and analysis could be assigned for homework while discussion and presentation occur in class for one day.

Additional education resources are available at the Signs of Your Identity website. Visit the For Teachers section for potential opportunities to engage with the project and Daniella Zalcman.

 

Introduction: What Is a Primary Source?

Ask your students the questions. Based on their answers, provide a refresher on primary sources and their use. Do the same for secondary sources.

Background: Residential Schools

Note to your students that it was not just Canada that had this policy, many other British colonial holdings did as well. The United States government authorized similar policy in the late 19th century. A good summary and collection of photographs can be found at here. Another way to expand or modify the lesson plan would be to include these images and information. Have your students read Daniella’s article from the Smithsonian magazine and analyze images from it along with those from the website above or from this Library of Congress collection.

Activity: Analyzing Photographs as Primary Sources

Remind students that photographs are often posed, even ones designed to be candid. If you want to engage in a more philosophical debate, have them discuss if a photograph can ever truly be candid if the subject knows that the image is being taken.

During the discussion of the archive photographs, remind students that these photos would most likely be taken for use by governmental agencies to pursuade officials and the public that these schools were “working.” There would be an interest in depicting students as compliant and the conditions as acceptable.

During the discussion of Daniella’s photographs, refer students back to the first lesson plan resource if they need a refresher on her technique and why she used it.

Evaluation:

Evaluate students based on participation in discussion. Another method of evaluation, have students write up ~500 words addressing one or more of the wrap-up discussion questions. Another option, have them analyze a different primary source related to this lesson plan.

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