Residential school art to be reunited with survivors

Port Alberni

The art of students who attended Alberni Indian Residential School during 1959 and 1960 will be reunited with the artists that created them through ceremony during an event on March 30 at Alberni Athletic Hall.

As part of the display of this art, a feast is being organized by a committee of Nuu-chah-nulth residential school survivors and their family members. All Alberni Indian Residential School survivors and their families are invited and welcome to attend.

The feast will provide an opportunity for survivors, families and their communities to come together to honor the power of children’s voices through art.

The children’s paintings were saved by an artist who taught weekly classes at AIRS to select students. Robert Aller was not a regular staff member, but was hired to run a painting class with 47 students enrolled. Aller asked each child to allow him to keep one of their paintings. He collected 49 paintings in all. The artist died in 2008 and his family donated the children’s art to the University of Victoria.

At present, there is little known about the status of children’s art from residential schools in Canada. The art from AIRS is rare as not much of the students’ work survived the schools run across the country.

An exhibition of the children’s paintings was held in Victoria last year as part of the regional event held by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. See story:

Survivors from AIRS, Wally Samuel, Jack and Deb Cook and Jeff Cook, who himself has a painting within the exhibit, joined together in an effort to reconnect residential school survivors with the art they created, in the hope that the history of the pieces can be recorded. They also hope to learn more about the survivors’ memories of the art class and the teacher.

“The overarching goal of the university’s work on this collection has been to reunite former students, their families, and communities with this collection of their art and to explore how the creative marks made by children might play a role in reconciliation and healing today,” reads a press release.

A display of contemporary Nuu-chah-nulth children’s artwork will also be part of the event. Comment books for written statements and feedback will be placed near the art so those in attendance can share knowledge about the work, or the thoughts and feelings the art provokes. All of the material will become part of the documentation of the legacy of the feast.

Gifts of the reproduced artworks will be given to the survivors and their families.

A commemorative publication will be produced by Dr. Andrea Walsh in partnership with the Elders in Residence at the University of Victoria.

For more information, contact Wally Samuel at or call 250-724-5290 and they are on Facebook: Alberni Indian Residential School Paintings

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