Before and After Images of Thomas Moore

It has been a long time since I’ve posted to the blog. Life with baby is busy! My research continues to progress, but the pace has certainly changed. There have been many moments over the last few weeks where I’ve thought, ‘I should post this to my blog,’ but just didn’t get the chance.

A friend and colleague, Eric Large, recently sent me an interesting article about the missing children who never returned from the Indian Residential Schools. Many children died while in the IRS system. Their bodies were often buried at cemeteries near the schools. Some families didn’t know (and still don’t) what happened to their children or their bodies. The article mentions the work of researchers now trying to find out where those bodies are to provide some sort of peace of mind to families. A small fragment in the article stands out to me. A researcher is quoted as studying the movement of students at a particular school, but her work is cut short because the records simply cease to exist after 1916. She pursues the documents “until the records disappear.” In the context of the article, this simply refers to a particular school’s records.  But the words strike me as indicative of a much larger issue. So many of these schools didn’t keep or lost their records. But there is nothing simple about disappearance. Many factors are involved in the disappearing of things, of people, of cultures, and it is an active rather than a passive process. As I continue to look through archives, I am reminded that the gaps found there are not simply absences but active erasures.

Two of the most circulated images from the IRS system are of Thomas Moore. Arranged as before and after images, the photos are an evocative representation of the goals of colonial assimilation. When I began this research, I had hoped to write about Thomas Moore. I quickly found, however, that finding out what happened to young Thomas Moore was more difficult than I had thought it would be. Because the images are some of the most re-printed images from the IRS system, I would have thought that more about his life would have been known. But, I found that this was not the case. One exchange with an archivist in Saskatchewan provided some limited information:

Thank you for your enquiry. Yes, the two photos are probably some of our most popular images. No, we do not have the original photos. They were copied from the Canada Sessional Papers, No.14, Volume XXXI, No. 11 (1897). This Department of Indian Affairs Report was for the year ending at June 30, 1896. The photos would have been taken before that date.

The only information we have on Thomas Moore comes from the student register for the Regina Indian Industrial School, 1891 to 1908 (microfilm R-2.40, see entry No. 22). He was actually admitted to the school on August 26, 1891 when he was 8 years old. He was a full blooded Indian from the Saulteaux tribe. He was from the Muscowpetung Band which is about 35 miles northeast of Regina. His full name was Thomas Moore Kusick. His father was St.(?) Paul Desjarlais (deceased) and his mother’s name was Hanna Moore Kusick. The boy was a Protestant and had previously attended Lakes End School. His state of education upon admission consisted of knowing the alphabet. His height was 3 feet, 11 inches and he weighed 54 1/2 pounds.  There is a note in the admission register that directs one to look for page 20 in the Discharge Register. However, we do not have this document and therefore we do not know when he completed his education.

The height and weight information strikes me as particularly sad. He was just a boy, 3 feet 11 inches and 54 1/2 pounds.

With this email exchange, I had very quickly reached the point where the records (at this particular archive, anyway) disappeared. Of course, information about Thomas Moore may be scattered in several archives (and I have reached out to several). More than likely, the best place to look for more information will be outside the archives, in communities near Regina, or through networks of extended family. I’m going to keep looking, but I don’t have much hope of finding out what happened to Thomas Moore.

If anyone out there has any information, please feel free to reach out!

Images of the different incarnations of the before and after images of Thomas Moore.

UPDATE: Some of the presentations are available online. Click here to watch.

For those people (like me) who couldn’t make it to the “Sharing Truth – Creating a National Research Centre on Residential Schools” Forum in Vancouver, you can watch the proceedings online here.

Catherine Kennedy at the Sharing Truth event in Vancouver

At the moment, Catherine Kennedy, the Executive Director of the South Africa History Archives is discussing some of the challenges regarding the compilation, interpretation and accessibility of the TRC archives in South Africa. Tom Adami, Chief of the Archives and Records Management United Nations Mission in Sudan is scheduled to speak next.

The program for the rest of Day One of the Forum is available here.

Louder than Words

January 24, 2011

There is an article in the New York Times today about Zimbabwean artist, Owen Maseko, whose recent exhibit at the National Gallery has been censored. Maseko’s work focuses on the Gukuranhundi, a massacre of thousands of Ndebele people that occurred between 1983 – 1987 in Zimbabwe. The exhibit remains standing but access has been barred. Instead, patrons can catch glimpses of the work from a balcony above. The windows of the gallery have been covered with newspapers.

The windows of the National Gallery, covered in newspaper. Source: NY Times

The New York Times article touches on the troubled past (and present) of Zimbabwe under President Mugabe’s rule, and discusses the fear of a public who cannot criticize its rulers or play a hand in shaping their country’s future. It also highlights the complicated relationship between art, politics and reconciliation. The article notes that Owen Maseko “created the Gukurahundi exhibit to contribute to reconciliation.” I wonder what reconciliation means in this context, especially given that Mugabe is still in power.

As my research on the Indian Residential School Truth and Reconciliation Commission (IRS TRC) moves forward, the role of artwork in the negotiation of a troubled past and particularly within the context of reconciliation continues to arise as an area of interest. The IRS TRC has put out a call for artwork, recognizing that images/artwork/film etc. can play a powerful role in processes of reconciliation. It is the first TRC that has prioritized artist engagements with the past in this way.

I recently came across this image on one of my favorite blogs, No Caption Needed. The blog post is entitled “Seeing the Past in the Present,” and showcases the work of artist Sergey Larenkov. Larenkov uses archival images of Europe during World War II and current photographs to make the past legible in the present.  Because I find these images so striking, and because sometimes images do speak louder than words, I end this post with one of Larenkov’s images.

By Sergey Larenkov. Source: No Caption Needed

Cypress Mountain, British Columbia

After a lovely couple of weeks off from research, it’s back to my desk and its stacks of books. Thankfully, I feel refreshed from a trip to the west coast (see pic above and previous post). The stacks of books, which looked daunting before the break, look slightly more welcoming now.

One of the skills that any good graduate student has to master is the art of simultaneous reading. It is not uncommon to be in the middle of several books at a time. Full disclosure – I have not mastered this art. I often have several open books on my desk, waiting for me to pick them up again. And although I am generally better when I focus on one book at a time, I can appreciate those moments when a phrase or paragraph from one book seems to speak to another in some unexpected way, or when an author picks up the thread of another to push an argument a crucial step further. And even when the authors are working with different ideas or themes, research is the most fun when you can figure out a way to put them into conversation with each other.

Arranged around the themes of visual culture, archival imagery and desire, here are a few snippets of conversation that I hope to engage as my research moves forward:

W.J.T. Mitchell’s What Do Pictures Want?:

What pictures want, then, is not to be interpreted, decoded, worshipped, smashed, exposed, or demystified by their beholders, or to enthrall their beholders. They may not even want to be granted subjectivity or personhood by well-meaning commentators who think that humanness is the greatest compliment they could pay to pictures. The desires of pictures may be inhuman or nonhuman, better modeled by figures of animals, machines, or cyborgs, or by even more basic images – what Erasmus Darwin called ‘the loves of plants.’ What pictures want in the last instance, then, is simply to be asked what they want, with the understanding that the answer may well be, nothing at all (48).

Julia Emberley’s Defamiliarizing the Aboriginal:

The colonial photographic archive, for example, constituted a key technology of representation that coincided with the epistemic violence of eugenics and miscegenation, forced sterilizations and hysterectomies, and, especially, the coercive use of domestic violence and wife battering, rape, and the sexual assault of indigenous male and female children in the residential schools (14).

Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History:

“Silences enter the process of historical production at four crucial moments: the moment of fact creation (the making of sources); the moment of fact assembly (the making of archives); the moment of fact retrieval (the making of narratives); and the moment of retrospective significance (the making of history in the final instance).

These moments are conceptual tools, second-level abstractions of processes that feed on each other. As such, they are not meant to provide a realistic description of the making of any individual narrative. Rather, hey help us understand why not all silences are equal and why they cannot be addressed – or redressed – in the same manner. To put it differently, any historical narrative is a particular bundle of silences, the result of a unique process, and the operation required to deconstruct these silences will vary accordingly (27).

Still figuring out how the above work together, but it’s coming together. Slowly but surely.

Hope everyone had a happy new year.

Back to the matter at hand

December 1, 2010


Postcard for The Children Remembered

I’ve been looking through the archival documents and images I brought with me to Paris and am still trying to process the many stories they tell. Because in most cases I did not bring the originals with me, I am either looking at pictures of pictures (photographs I’ve taken of the images), photocopies or reproductions of the originals that are now circulating in different ways.

The image that has my attention now is a postcard printed by the United Church of Canada. It is a piece of promotional material for their Residential Schools Archival Project: “The Children Remembered.” There is a lot going on in the photo. The children are drawing “zeros” or perhaps circles on the blackboard, their backs facing away from us. Three girls, five boys. The banner “Looking unto Jesus” is perched above them in bold block letters. The image conveys both a sense of movement and a sense of stillness. The second girl is caught with her head looking slightly to her left; the boy second from the right seems to be reaching upwards to write higher. The angle from the picture is taken positions the photographer (and the viewer of the photograph) within the first rows of the classroom.

On the back of the postcard is a short excerpt from the United Church of Canada Apology made in 1986: “We tried to make you be like us and in so doing we helped to destroy the vision that made you what you were.”

My last few months have been spent reading and searching through archival documents and images. As I have posted in the past, I am constantly in awe of the materials that can be found there, documents that are both revealing and limited. I’ve also had some wonderful conversations with the archivists I have met (in Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa) and it’s been a pleasure to discuss some of the complexities involved in doing this research. Over the last few months, I have also been reading (and re-reading) sections of Ann Stoler’s book, Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense, which has provided an additional perspective on reading not only the documents contained within the archive, but on the archive itself.

I’ve found that my approach to archival research follows what Stoler identifies as “archiving-as-process rather than archives-as-things” (20). She stresses the need to read both along and against the grain of the archive, that is, to understand the conditions in which these archives were created and cultivated, and the conditions in which they are read now. Archives are not simply produced; they are productive. Because archives are charged sites of both knowledge and anxiety, they must be read as sites of contestation and resignification.[1]

These reflections have also led me to recognize that  truth commissions themselves are often about the production of an archive. For example, Verne Harris, Deputy-Director of the National Archive of South Africa during the South African TRC saw the reconciliation process as  “profoundly, an archival intervention.”[2] As the South African TRC gathered testimonies, “it was engaging archive, rescuing archive, creating archive, refiguring archive.”[3] I am curious to see how the archive (as both process and thing) plays a role as the Canadian TRC moves forward.


[1] See the collected essays in Lucy R Lippard’s Partial Recall: Photographs of Native North Americans for one example where indigenous people have done re-readings and resignfied archival images.)

[2] Krog, Antjie. There Was This Goat: Investigating the Truth Commission Testimony of Notrose Nobomvu Konile. University of Kwazulu Natal Press, 2009, p. 65

[3] ibid, p. 65.

A Visit to Ottawa

September 20, 2010

Indian Residential School students holding up letters spelling "goodbye" at the Fort Simpson School in the Northwest Territories, 1922. Credit: J.F. Moran / Library and Archives Canada / PA-102575

I’ve posted in the past about visiting various archives, and it never ceases to amaze me the stacks and stacks of information held within their walls. You can start your search in one place, looking for one thread of information and the trail takes you somewhere completely different. My trip to the National Archives in Ottawa was no different. Mostly, I was looking for particular photos from particular residential schools, and I saw many photographs that were striking (including the one above, which can also be found online through the archive’s website).

I also found a whole stack of letters sent from the schools to the administrators regarding the upkeep of the schools, payment to staff, ledgers of staff and students. These documents track some of the mundane and everyday aspects involved in running the schools, revealing the ways in which policies affecting the schools took shape. For example, many of the letters I sifted through (generally from the 1940s and 1950s) discussed the need for manual training for the students. The focus was not on reading, writing or math, but on the training of a low-income work force. The documents included the lists of chores (including the repairing of furniture and fixing broken windows) undertaken by the young students and included letters expressing concern and dismay at the poor conditions in which the students resided. For example:

Letter extract from Dr. P.E. Moore, Director of Indian Health Services, on his visit to Chemawawin Indian Day School – Letter dated 15, September 1947:

“When I see these buildings I am not at all proud of our Department. We should set an example and we are certainly not doing it here. However, any comments I shall make are purely from a health angle. There has been a lot of rain recently and I discovered that the ration house leaks in places, the plaster has fallen away from between the logs which must allow both rain and snow to penetrate. At one corner the logs are so rotted that the dogs had dug a hole large enough for them to enter and steal some of the bacon. The man has repaired this opening temporarily with tin and stones. One would have to have a powerful imagination to see anything sanitary about this place.”