Erasing Indigenous Heritage

For nearly a century, the Canadian government took indigenous Canadians from their families and placed them in church-run boarding schools, forcibly assimilating them to Western culture. Children as young as 2 or 3 years old were taken from their homes, their language extinguished, their culture destroyed. With support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, photographer Daniella Zalcman has been documenting the lingering effects of this trauma for her book, Signs of Your Identity, this year's winner for the FotoEvidence Book Award.

"Students were punished for speaking their native languages or observing indigenous traditions, physically and sexually assaulted, and in extreme instances subjected to medical experimentation and sterilization," Zalcman said. "At least 6,000 children died while in the system—so many that it was common for residential schools to have their own cemeteries." Zalcman's double exposures combine portraits of the former students with places or items relating to their experience, giving the photos an ethereal look that underscores the damage the system caused. The last Indian Residential School closed in 1996. The government issued its first apology in 2008.

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