Photography came to the prairies in the same era as the first residential schools. Like survey transits and railways, they were a technology applied to acquire and control new physical and human landscapes. In fact, residential school staff brought some of the first photography into the lives of Indigenous communities in Alberta. Many early photographs of Indigenous people were taken in the context of residential schools. This site holds over 10,000 photographs. They are separated into historic and contemporary sections. The historic photographs are concerned with the operations of residential schools. The contemporary section concerns the activities of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada as it held public hearings and other activities between 2010-2015.
Many of the historic photographs are in black and white as colour did not become the common format until the 1960s. In most cases the photographer was a staff member. Rights for the historic photographs were rarely a concern. Permission to take a student’s photograph was never requested. Most staff simply took photos as routine work. The photographers’ rights or even identity was not always recorded. For these reasons, many of the photographs are poorly described. Their description is ongoing. For the historic photographs, the images the TRC acquired are copies of images in religious and/or government archives. The NCTR Archives should be consulted for any reproduction use of historic photographs outside of the public classrooms of Alberta. For contemporary photos of TRC activities, the NCTR Archives should be consulted for use of the image.
It is hoped the images in the photographs - the colorless uniforms, the infirmaries, cafeterias, and playgrounds - will give a more profound understanding of a child’s life at residential school. From this depiction, a better understanding of the residential school experience will result.