Signs of Your Identity
Daniella Zalcman- 2016 FotoEvidence Book Award Winner
Book Award Years
In the 1840s, the Canadian government created the Indian Residential School system. This network of Church run boarding schools forcibly assimilated indigenous children into Western Canadian culture. Attendance was mandatory, and Indian 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. Students were punished for speaking their native languages or observing any indigenous traditions, routinely physically and sexually assaulted, and in some extreme instances subjected to medical experimentation and sterilization. The last residential school didn't close until 1996. The Canadian government issued its first formal apology in 2008. The lasting impact on Canada's indigenous population is immeasurable and grotesque. At least 6,000 children died while in the system — so many that it was common for residential schools to have their own cemeteries. And those who did survive, deprived of their families and their own cultural identities, became part of a series of lost generations. Languages died out, sacred ceremonies were criminalized and suppressed. The Canadian government has officially termed the residential school system a cultural genocide. Signs of Your Identity is a photo book, a collection of interviews and first-person accounts, and most importantly, a teaching tool. These multiple exposure portraits document survivors who are still fighting to overcome the memories of their residential school experiences, reflected in the sites where those schools once stood, in the government documents that enforced strategic assimilation, in the places where today, First Nations people now struggle to access services that should be available to all Canadians. These are the echoes of trauma that remain even as the healing process begins. Zalcman uses double exposure portraits to portray her subjects. These multiple exposure portraits juxtaposes survivors who are still fighting to overcome the memories of their residential school experiences, with the sites where those schools once stood, government documents that enforced strategic assimilation and places where, even today, First Nations people struggle to access services that should be available to all Canadians.