Bearing Responsibility: The Digital Witness Blanket Project

Scott Gillam Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Lola Whonnock Manitoba Education and Early Childhood Learning
Steve McCullough Canadian Museum for Human Rights


Paper Abstract:

The Digital Witness Blanket is the result of a collaborative effort between Carey Newman, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR), Media One, Camosun College, and Animikii. It is a virtual extension of the Witness Blanket, not a replication, and works to expand public access to the Stories of Survivors. It serves as a healing tool for Survivors, their families, and their communities. It offers a pathway to further pursue Reconciliation in a manner that ensures truth, justice, and hope for Survivors, their kin, and all Canadians in turn. This paper offers a case study on decolonizing approach through inclusive UI/UX, education, and content design.

This case study reviews how our team developed a relationship with the community – the content choices and the technical challenges, and details some of our solutions and considerations for measuring impact. The project compassionately includes the voices of the survivors of Indian Residential Schools, a key component of the genocide against Indigenous peoples by the Canadian Government. People and communities worldwide are compelled to consider what action to take. One of the challenges for this exhibition was to immerse visitors in its content in a way that emphasized its relevance, encouraged empathy, and directly connected them to the subject matter. Leveraging first-person testimony, an inclusive content development process, trauma-informed design features, and additional visual, auditory, and supportive components enable rich interaction between museum visitors exploring how to bear witness.



By Scott Gillam, Steve McCullough, and Lola Whonnock

As institutions largely informed by historically colonial instruments, museums carry a direct responsibility to respond to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and in Canada, further responsibilities as outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions’ Calls to Action. This paper offers a case study on decolonizing approaches through inclusive UI/UX, education, and content design. We hope to express and share this project’s relationships, intentions, and motivations to provide meaningful insights and inspire dialogue and reflection.

One year after the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) inauguration in 2014, the museum exhibited the Witness Blanket for the first time in 2015. Carey Newman, whose traditional name is Hayalthkin’geme, is a multi-disciplinary Indigenous artist, master carver, filmmaker, author, and public speaker and created the Witness Blanket. Inspired by a woven blanket, it contains hundreds of items reclaimed from residential schools, churches, government buildings, and traditional and cultural structures across Canada. The artwork, a national monument, recognizes the atrocities of the Indian residential school era, honours the children and the Survivors, and symbolizes ongoing reconciliation.

[caption id="attachment_13324" align="alignnone" width="1080"]An extensive series of panels of objects, wood, and cultural ephemera surround a doorway with a large wooden door in the centre ajar. Figure 01: The Witness Blanket original artwork on display at the CMHR in April 2021. Photo credit: Aaron Cohen[/caption] [caption id="attachment_13325" align="alignnone" width="1080"]Portion of a large artwork consisting of objects set in cedar frames. Figure 02: A detail of the Witness Blanket original artwork on display at the CMHR in April 2021. Photo credit: Aaron Cohen[/caption]

“The blanket is a universal symbol of protection. For many of us, it identifies who we are and where we’re from. We wear blankets in ceremony and give them as gifts. Blankets protect our young and comfort our elders.”

– Carey Newman

Throughout exhibiting this artwork, CMHR conducted public and educational programs, forming relationships with the artist and with communities affected by the ongoing effects of the genocide perpetrated by the Canadian government against indigenous peoples. An aspect of this relationship culminated in April 2019 with a landmark stewardship agreement.

The unique stewardship agreement governs the exhibition and care of the Witness Blanket. The agreement acknowledges that the Witness Blanket and its stories have inherent rights. In it, artist Carey Newman and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights commit to preserve and protect the Blanket. They commit to take physical and spiritual care of the Blanket, to honour the stories it carries, and to act in the best interests of the Blanket itself. The expression of this agreement underscores the departure from colonial practices of attributed ownership of collection materials by the museum.

The Witness Blanket team collected over 880 objects from every province and territory in Canada. They travelled over 200,000 kilometres, visited 77 communities and met more than 10,000 people. Interviews with Survivors were conducted at their homes or at the sites of the residential schools they were forced to attend. The Witness Blanket as an art installation relies on the evocative possibility of an assemblage of diverse objects to mutely bear witness to the past, present, and future. The emotional power of objects and the voices of Survivors combine to bear witness to the legacy of Canada’s residential schools.

A Reimagined Digital Experience

[caption id="attachment_13326" align="alignnone" width="1080"]Screenshot of the homepage of displaying a welcome message beside a set of geometric tiles. Figure 03: Desktop image of the homepage.[/caption]

The Digital Witness Blanket project is the result of a collaborative effort between Carey Newman, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR), Media One, Camosun College, and Animikii. It is a virtual extension of the Witness Blanket, not a replication, and works to expand public access to the Stories of Survivors. Survivors’ stories have been woven throughout this website. It is a healing tool for Survivors, their families, and their communities. It offers a pathway to further pursue Reconciliation in a manner that ensures truth, justice, and hope for Survivors, their kin, and all Canadians in turn.

The goal of this digital project was to take the same ideals behind the creation of the Blanket – witnessing, responsibility, and transformation – reimagined as a digital experience with a focus on residential school Survivors’ storytelling. The Digital Witness Blanket team aimed to create a cross-media storytelling platform. We achieved this by combining objects from the blanket with excerpts of the video testimonial content gathered over their multi-year process of collection and assembly, building on the material design of the blanket. The emotional power of objects and the voices of Survivors combine to bear witness to the legacy of Canada’s residential schools. This rich approach to storytelling centers and supports Survivors’ lived experiences. It also connects the history of residential schools with their ongoing, traumatic, personal and collective legacy.

[caption id="attachment_13327" align="alignnone" width="1080"]Screenshot of the welcome message on the homepage that reads: "Welcome to the Witness Blanket. You are invited to bear witness to the experience and the aftermath of Canada's residential schools. These stories address themes of racism and cruelty. A 'Safe space' is always available from the top right menu item if you need to take a break or leave." Figure 04: Cookie-based welcome message encountered by new users of the website upon arrival.[/caption]

The site welcomes visitors with a personal message from Carey Newman. Visitors can choose a path by selecting items from the Witness Blanket to explore. We offer an initial series of ten stories to represent the breadth and depth of the experiences shared by Survivors. Visitors can explore further by following thematic and regional links between accounts and the objects linked to them. A virtual version of the full Witness Blanket is available when the visitor reveals it. Summary information about all the people and objects held within the Blanket is provided.

[caption id="attachment_13328" align="alignnone" width="1080"]Screenshot of a video playback window featuring a central figure. A dark-haired man sits on a stool in front of a large wooden totem pole with carving tools to the right of the frame. Figure 05: The welcome message on the homepage featuring artist Carey Newman.[/caption]

With this project, we are prioritizing two key audiences. Serving the needs and interests of Survivors, and the role the Digital Witness Blanket can play in classrooms.

This reimagined digital experience is the first in a sequence of projects involving the Witness Blanket that will encompass traditional web, augmented reality, virtual reality, and projection mapping.

Further to our responsibility to these stories, along with developing a roadmap with the full participation of the artist Carey Newman, design and oral history capture from MediaOne, and platform development by Animikii Indigenous Technology.

We gratefully acknowledge the support and relationship with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) Survivors Circle, which provided invaluable leadership and guidance. We developed all content, wireframes, UI/UX, and approaches in full consultation with a Survivors Circle at the NCTR. Many thanks to Eugene Arcand, Garnet Angeconeb, Lila Bruyere, Edna Elias, Maata Evaluardjuk-Palmer, Wanbdi Wakita, and Phyllis Webstad.

Design Approach

By Scott Gillam

Establishing a consistent and cohesive aesthetic for the Digital Witness Blanket’s design, closely linked to the original artwork, was crucial and required defining the visual language. The strategies involved selecting colour palettes, typography, imagery, and other visual elements to leverage throughout the project. We established a clear and consistent visual language to create a sense of unity and cohesiveness across all aspects of the design. As a result, both a stand-alone platform and a companion piece to the artwork offer a meaningful persistence of experience.

Perhaps most importantly, given the subject matter, content contributors, and desired outcomes, is the focus on a trauma-informed approach to design. Designing with a trauma-informed approach involves considering the potential impact of past trauma on users and creating a design that is safe, supportive, and non-triggering. This approach recognizes that many individuals have experienced trauma and that certain design elements, such as colour, typography, and imagery, can trigger negative emotions or memories. By designing with a trauma-informed approach, designers can create spaces and experiences that feel safe and comfortable for all users. Strategic design decisions involve using calming colours, creating private and quiet spaces, and avoiding potentially triggering imagery. By prioritizing the well-being of users, we create designs that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also emotionally supportive.

[caption id="attachment_13329" align="alignnone" width="1080"]Screenshot of the story page for the Mush Hole Bowl. Figure 06: One of ten story pages for featuring items from the blanket, with a design strategy that weaves themes, testimony, and animated designs inspired by the original artwork.[/caption]

Acknowledging that all aspects of residential school experiences and history can be triggering and traumatic is in the introduction that welcomes visitors. The Digital Witness Blanket provides supportive pauses at multiple points in the experience, allowing visitors the emotional space to sit with the stories they encounter. Stories that deal with explicitly disturbing and traumatic content will approach this material gradually and carefully. We offer readers ample time and space to engage, or not, as they are willing and able. At any point, users can easily access a “safe space.” This feature will enable them to leave the experience entirely or to take advantage of support before carrying on.

In the past, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights has often focused efforts on areas of inclusive design. In collaboration with our partners, we have pushed aspects of inclusion even further with the specific design considerations for this project, such as the safe space.

[caption id="attachment_13330" align="alignnone" width="1080"]Screenshot of the ‘safe space’ page message that reads, “If you are a residential school Survivor or family member in need of emotional support, a national crisis line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week: 1-800-925-4412. Use the links below to resume your journey with the Witness Blanket or to exit.” Figure 07: Along with providing a safe space for quiet reflection, it is critical to provide a potential means of support for Survivors visiting the site.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_13332" align="alignnone" width="1080"]Screenshot of the safe space, which along with soothing audio, also features images of nature and wildlife, such as the baby wolf depicted here. Figure 08: Originally, the “safe space” was designed to feature only meditative landscapes. After an initial round of feedback from the Survivor’s circle, we expanded to include many forms of wildlife in acknowledging our relationship with the natural and spiritual environment.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_13333" align="alignnone" width="1080"]Screenshots of a tablet featuring a winter scene, a mobile screenshot featuring a baby buffalo and its mother, and a mobile screenshot with text including a one-eight hundred number for support. Figure 09: Additional views of the “Safe Space” in tablet and mobile.[/caption]

Media design for the site included responsive versions of all videos in portrait and landscape format, closed captioning in English and French, and transcripts for every video featured. Audio description was also applied where media allowed. All aspects of the site meet WCAG 2.1 AA standards except for the Explore the Blanket section, a legacy product presently being made fully accessible in 2023.

[caption id="attachment_13334" align="alignnone" width="1080"]Screenshot of a webpage with a video playback window at the center featuring an elderly female sitting in a recliner. Figure 10: Testimonies from Survivors are incorporated into the site to help activate education audiences and help represent the multitude of contributors to the Witness Blanket project.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_13335" align="alignnone" width="1080"]Screenshots of a tablet page with a video playback window at the center featuring an elderly female sitting in a recliner, and two additional mobile screen captures featuring the same design in different ratios. Figure 11: Videos were produced in both landscape and portrait orientation to maximize the richness of the presentation and presence of the Survivor regardless of the platform.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_13336" align="alignnone" width="1080"]Screenshot of the Explore the Blanket section of featuring the entire sculpture made up of objects and geometric patterns of wood. Figure 12: The Explore the Blanket section allows users to reveal information about every item of the blanket, including the ten featured stories.[/caption]

Educational Resource

By Lola Whonnock

The CMHR team met with Animiki and Carey Newman to roadmap the Digital Witness Blanket resource plan in 2020. The new was to invite people on a journey through the Witness Blanket’s stories, be mindful of Survivors, and offer education to students and adults in Canada on the experiences of Residential School Survivors. This journey would take a visitor through stories, build empathy, tell truths, and encourage action. This road mapping, including me, the Interpretive Program Developer, allowed early ideation and exploration of how to support students through these ultimate goals: Empathy, Exploration, and Action, which live on in the current educational resources on the Digital Witness Blanket. As an Indigenous educator, connected to these stories as an Intergenerational Survivor of Residential School, I felt a great responsibility to ensure that the work we aimed to accomplish was done in a good way and honoured the Stewardship Agreement made with Carey Newman and the Witness Blanket.

I was included in the curation of stories and worked closely with Evaluation. We discussed the representation of voices and themes in the story, and we discussed the agency of Survivors to face their experience and survive. How can we know that our intention to share these stories is done in a way that affects the visitor, informs and moves them to action? This inclusion at this early stage was unique to my experience with the CMHR and allowed for collaboration and consultation on developing the Educational Resources. I had a directive to complete a resource for testing, I had the approval to proceed and form an advisory team, and I knew the themes to be anticipated for the finished stories. It seemed logical to create a framework for approaching the stories, exploring them in the local context and taking action. With an early draft, I consulted and collaborated with CMHR staff with an educational background. These excellent people worked in many spheres in the Museum and were met with one to one, remotely. I sought reconnection with teacher acquaintances across the country, searching for a variety of experiences from kindergarten to grade 12, as well as new teachers and experienced teachers. Where I had gaps, I again had colleagues to consult. In the end, we had a solid representation of experience and a high level of interest in the project.

The advice and experience of the educators in trying out the framework led to a rich discussion of teacher needs and led to the creation of a set of lessons to develop a Human Rights classroom strongly centred in Indigenous Pedagogies. At this point, The Survivor’s Circle from the NCTR had been invited to meet with the CMHR staff. The Educational Resource was the first piece of our work under review. Members of the Teacher’s advisory participated. Members of the Survivor’s Circle took the time to share their preference for the approach we had come up with and highlighted the need particularly to dissuade the making of question sheets, and the racism shared by teachers in this kind of evaluation. Taking that to heart and discussing with Evaluation, a rubric highlighting Empathy, Human Rights Awareness, and responding to stories was created to support evaluating conversations and projects.

At this point, I got to work with the story-writing team. As the stories were developed and discussions of layout and images and video clips were had, I worked closely with the Senior Digital Educator to support navigating the Digital Witness Blanket. This additional writing for the web shaped some of the framings of the story development. As a process, consulting, collaborating, adding and revising across departments, with outside support and advice, fully embedded the ideas of educating, building empathy and advising action to our web visitors.

[caption id="attachment_13337" align="alignnone" width="1080"]Screenshot of the Teacher Guide homepage of Figure 13: The Teacher Guide of features precious tools to support ongoing reconciliation.[/caption]

The importance of community and connections throughout our processes was high. Road mapping clearly showed the multiple stakeholders and participants involved in the work, and the aims of this digital resource were strongly tied to engaging in the power of storytelling to give voice to Survivors and their histories. As an Indigenous voice, educator, and storyteller, I found ways to insert the storytelling pedagogies, the listening action with talking circles and use that model with the teacher advisory group in our meetings. These teachers then took these methods back to the classroom and worked to replicate these experiences. Sharing these experiences with the Survivor’s circle reinforced the power of storytelling in moving us toward empathy. The next stage to move forward rests with the Museum, to connect with teachers not on the advisory, and see how their experiences with the educational resource go. Do these pedagogies, with these stories, move students to empathy and action?

[caption id="attachment_13338" align="alignnone" width="1080"]Screenshot of the Teacher Guide section of featuring downloadable, accessible PDFs. Figure 14: Understanding the needs of educators meant thinking about the students, supporting the creation of a classroom culture, and setting the stage for building empathy and understanding.[/caption]

Content Development

By Steve McCullough

Content development often begins with audience considerations. We had determined that our audiences were, first, residential school Survivors; second, K-12 students; and third, the interested public. We had also determined that we would present a deep dive into ten aspects of residential school experiences as witnessed by ten items from the Blanket that had strong corresponding video testimony. This involved a negotiation between experiential and historiographic perspectives on residential school history, the emotional and visual effectiveness of various items, and the strength and effectiveness of voices from the testimonial archive. We also wanted to ensure that the stories were geographically widespread and represented a diversity of identities and experiences.

Once the broad strokes of the project were understood, a small team of researchers and content creators met for several hours of conversation specifically about content design. This group comprised members of the Museum’s Digital Outreach and Research and Curation departments, artist Carey Newman, and video producer Cody Graham from Media One.

The initial work included confirming the initial ten overall themes and items, but also general matters of structure, approach, and tone. A key issue was the relationship between different voices, specifically how to combine first-person testimonial witnessing with a more impersonal institutional perspective without replicating the colonial norm of subordinating the former to the latter. Outcomes of this process included some important goals:

  • Centering on the experiences, voices, and perspectives of Survivors.
  • Supporting Survivor’s voices in the face of widespread denial and racism.
  • Emphasising personal and collective resistance and cultural resurgence.
  • Encouraging proactive, positive engagement, not passive reception.
  • Emphasising that bearing witness is an active responsibility.
  • Emphasising that reconciliation is an active transformation of relationships.

In keeping with our commitment to guidance from Survivors, we held planning, review, and discussion meetings with the NCTR Survivors Circle. Some of the high-level guidance they provided included:

  • Being direct about the suffering they experienced. Being “trauma informed” does not mean sugar-coating the truth.
  • Being explicit about causation both on the level of structural and political policies and practices of colonization but also on the interpersonal level of the individuals who created and enforced the schools and their cruelties.
  • Being properly representative, being sure to include experiences and approaches from the North, for example.
  • Connecting the past to the present.
  • Being careful with language: receiving guidance about words such as “legacy” or “collaboration.”

Counterweight To Denial

Carey Newman’s and the Museum’s experience with digital human rights communication taught us that we must consider the many forms of denial and resistance that rise to delegitimize Indigenous voices and conversations about colonial histories and legacies.

We knew many audiences would welcome and be open to learning more about residential schools, especially their relevance and continuity in the colonialism of the present. But we also want to reach audiences who exhibit what Nagy calls a “refusal or inability to acknowledge the existence of and their connection to systemic violence” (Nagy, 2020). This defensive reactivity is also a space of possibility, however. Nagy notes that for settler audiences, “Witnessing can also function as a form of settler accountability, but only when the process of witnessing leads to the disruption of colonial narratives, a reckoning of complicity, and decolonizing change” (Nagy, 2020).

It’s common in various forms of public education to say we want to “meet people where they’re at.” It’s also essential to not merely leave them there. When it comes to mainstream audiences, we were aware that it was important to unsettle them knowingly – in two senses: challenging received settler-colonial norms and stories and trying to create productive discomfort. “Changing oppression requires disruptive knowledge, not merely more knowledge” (Gebhard, 2017).

There is a growing literature describing the nature and tactics of colonial defensiveness and denial, or “moves to innocence” in the words of Tuck and Yang (2012). See, for example, Carleton (2021); Henderson (2015); Gaver (2017); Justice and Carleton (2021); Lowman and Barker (2015); Nagy (2012). Based on this research and conversations with Carey Newman, we identified these significant biases and misconceptions as central to the work:

  • The stories, effects, and legacy of Canada’s residential school system are not a matter of the distant past but live on and remain important here and now.
  • Residential schools were neither “normal for the time” nor “just the way things were” nor – conversely – a regrettable exception to an otherwise benevolent colonial history.
  • The failings, problems, and wrongdoings at the schools were well-known and well-documented.
  • The schools offered imprisonment and control more than education.
  • The residential school system was a significant part of the overall process of colonial genocide that attempted to eliminate Indigenous peoples to control the land. This system of dispossession and elimination continues in various forms today.

One significant role of the contextualizing voice was to ensure that Survivor experiences and claims were validated and supported in the face of the denial of the most salient misconceptions and hostile interpretations that face Indigenous truth-tellers.

Two-Eyed Seeing

Many team members working on the Digital Witness Blanket, including Scott and Steve, are settlers. For many years, we have formed relationships with various individuals and communities to share and tell human rights stories, such as climate change and Two Spirit experiences. Our practice includes working with Indigenous educators, Elders, knowledge keepers, and youth. Working as settlers on colonialism and Indigenous witnessing is always personal and professional because it requires reckoning with our privileged position as beneficiaries of past colonial dispossession and the ongoing oppression of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Decolonizing our approach to telling and interpreting the past, present, and future requires an overall commitment to authentic and humble relationships that finds expression in the most minor details of structure and wording.

In combining the first-person storytelling perspective with a more historiographic tone and approach, we relied on the principle of “Two Eyed Seeing.” This approach was first articulated in the context of environmental and public health research and is lesser known in the humanities and institutions of shared memory.

Two-Eyed Seeing was formulated in 2004 by Mi’kmaq Elder Albert Marshall. “Albert indicates that Two Eyed Seeing is the gift of multiple perspectives treasured by many aboriginal peoples and explains that it refers to learning to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing, and from the other eye with the strengths of Western knowledges and ways of knowing, and to using both these eyes together, for the benefit of all” (Bartlett, 2012). Finding ways to bring Indigenous and settler perspectives together offers meaningful resistance to the long history of colonial contempt for Indigenous ways of knowing and its “sustained effort to sever Indigenous peoples from traditional education and traditional knowledge” (Wilson, 2018).

The Digital Witness Blanket does not present an experience of Indigenous storytelling, despite foregrounding Indigenous voices. Additionally, it does not pursue traditional institutional conceptual and historical didactic explanation forms. Our strategy is to provide a woven pattern of testimony and supportive contextualization, which creates a productively challenging experience.

A chorus of testimony foregrounds the emotional and personal immediacy of first-person storytelling. Several voices provide the quotations that each story on the site is built around, except for one story focused on a single Survivor. Multiple voices provide implicit corroboration and triangulation that help circumvent denial tactics that assail individual witnesses’ authority or truthfulness. These stories were braided together with historical contextualization or statistical comparison that brought in the impersonal voice of the Museum in a protective and supportive role intended to center and preserve voices of experience, to create a shelter for them.

[caption id="attachment_13339" align="alignnone" width="1080"]Four screenshots from mobile devices featuring faces of various individuals with large text quotes. Figure 15: Several voices are featured in various forms and contexts within the stories to demonstrate the breadth of the impact of the Indian Residential School (IRS) system.[/caption]

What this meant in practice was, first and foremost, listening to Survivors and allowing their storytelling to guide content development. Each story’s detailed articulation came from repeated and comparative viewings of testimonial videos. We produced historical research packages addressing the specific facets of residential schools that surfaced through this process and wrote a supportive text based on this scholarship. Stories were written by the Museum’s Digital Content Specialist and reviewed by curatorial and education staff as well as members of the Digital Witness Blanket team. Throughout the process, our overall approach and then specific pieces of writing were reviewed and discussed at length with the NCTR Survivor’s Circle.

Two Eyed Seeing attempts to distinguish between settler identities, heritages, and ways of knowing and the domineering racism of colonialism. “Colonialism corrupted the relationship between original peoples and the Settlers” (Alfred and Corntassel, 2005). Colonial white supremacy is subtle, however. One of the unending responsibilities of settler scholars and practitioners is to preserve the ethical space of genuine relationship that doesn’t revert to practices or attitudes that reject, denigrate or appropriate Indigenous ways of knowing. Working in partnership with Indigenous staff, knowledge keepers, elders, and leaders is essential to provide insight and guidance to settler staff.

Content Design for Educational Audiences

The education team developed many materials and approaches to bringing the Digital Witness Blanket into classrooms well before we even started drafting content. These materials proved invaluable as we wrote the stories. We structured the stories to support their use in various educational settings. They begin with an introductory section targeted at a grade 6 writing and conceptual comprehension level. The balance of each text is written to accommodate a grade 8-9 level of comprehension. Closely collaborative and iterative work between the educational and digital content staff ensured that the content development respected the cognitive and emotional realities of working with children at different age ranges.

The educational design also helped us create a trauma-informed approach (because we want to speak to impacted people and communities). The stories’ complexity and emotional intensity ramp up as they proceed, which means we ease into complex matters that are well-signposted along the way.


By Scott Gillam

Given the CMHR’s work in relationship with the community, our evaluation team deliberately developed an evaluation strategy that would consider decolonizing approaches to impact assessment.

In March 2021, our Indigenous Relations and Community Engagement department began an Elder-in-Residence program, which coincided with consultations with our evaluation team at the beginning of this project. Elder Robert Greene, who has a long-standing relationship with the CMHR, was available to support staff and consult on perspectives in evaluating many aspects of our work.

Consulting with our Elder-in-Residence provided valuable insights essential to realizing this project respectfully and inclusively for diverse communities. In building upon our conversations and relationships with the NCTR Survivors Circle, Elder Greene, who himself is a survivor of the Indian Residential School System, contributes critical perspectives that deepen our understanding of the impact of sharing these stories for survivors and educational audiences learning about these experiences. Elder Greene offers valuable insights into cultural protocols, worldviews, and values that inform our process through consultations with him, sharing our work, and building relationships around a common understanding of our goals.

We undertook a decolonizing approach in considering how to understand the impact and think about how to achieve success. A living document was created by CMHR’s internal evaluation specialist, reflecting the project teams’ objectives, inputs, and expected outcomes for the Digital Witness Blanket. The evaluation team updates and adapts the document as the teams’ priorities or decisions change to capture and reflect their work accurately.

Qualitative evaluation will take the form of collecting feedback from survivors, feedback from Carey Newman, and our Teacher advisory. Our evaluation team will also be working with our digital outreach team to measure anecdotal feedback and patterns from social media about the project regarding learning and empathy.

Early quantitative metrics include awareness, reach, and user behaviours.

Since launching in September 2022, the site has received over 600 thousand views in the first four months, and users have downloaded over 7000 teacher guides. Visitors from the province where the museum is located account for 5% of our traffic, while 81% of visitation is national and 14% is international.

Conclusion: Bearing Witness

Two Eyed Seeing is a situated and embodied practice rooted in our responsibility for being in and changing the world (Bartlett, 2012). Settler museum professionals working on the Digital Witness Blanket adopt Two-Eyed Seeing as a means of taking responsibility for colonial history and bearing witness to injustice, personally and professionally, rather than just another approach to content production.

We explicitly describe the important idea of bearing witness on the Witness Blanket website, and it also informs our content design, particularly in how we conclude the trajectory of each story. Unusually, we often address the reader in the text of the Digital Witness Blanket. Many stories end with recognizing the reader’s presence as a witness and reflecting on their responsibility to take this experience into their lives and relationships.

We also pose reflective questions at the end of each story. Contemplative and meditative questions is a practice first developed within our physician design presentation in-gallery at the CMHR, and has since been developed successfully for our long-form web stories at Following Lola’s guidance, we developed questions related to:

  • Head – “What do I know?”
  • Heart – “What do I feel?”
  • Hands – “What can I do?”
  • Spirit – “How are we all interconnected?”

Our goal with the questions is to invite a personal connection with the themes and content of each story, and in ways that invite positive experiences of unsettling. In educational settings, teachers can use questions to challenge or dis-equilibrate learners in a transformative way (Hokanson, 2015). They can offer a moment of reflection that invites readers to consider their own positioning concerning colonial histories and experiences. Especially for settler audiences, questions can be an effective tactic in our overall goal of encouraging them to learn from and not merely learn about residential school history (Nagy, 2020).

[caption id="attachment_13340" align="alignnone" width="1080"]A headline says "Ask Yourself" followed by three questions. 1) What role does food play in your personal and cultural identity? 2) What does the lack of food in residential schools say about their values and goals? What inequalities in food and health remain across Canada today? Figure 16: Reflective questions from the Mush Hole Bowl story at An example of the questions that help visitors tie concepts and themes from the past to the present.[/caption]

Witnessing is an ethical relationship to the future, not merely a conceptual experience of learning about the past. In Carey Newman’s formulation, “To bear witness is to show by your actions and existence that something is true. To ensure that important things are not forgotten, a witness watches and listens and then remembers and retells what they learned.”

We invite you to bear witness.


The Digital Witness Blanket is a collaborative project involving Carey Newman, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Media One and Animikii Indigenous Technology. Proudly supported by Telus.

We are grateful for the generous contributions from the Entwistle Family Foundation and the TELUS Friendly Future Foundation.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Survivors Circle has provided invaluable leadership and guidance. Many thanks to Eugene Arcand, Garnet Angeconeb, Lila Bruyere, Edna Elias, Maata Evaluardjuk-Palmer, Wabdi Wakita, and Phyllis Webstad.

A special thank you to Elder Robert Greene, Elder in Residence, and Caroline Alberola, Organization Evaluation Specialist, for their insights and contributions to this project.

We’d like to thank the educators on the Witness Blanket Teacher Advisory group who informed and tested the content and teaching materials.

Creating the Digital Witness Blanket project is the work of many talented and dedicated people. We are grateful for the financial, professional and administrative support from all involved in its creation and ongoing evolution.


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