Cut Out (2019) is a series of over 100 manipulated, B&W vintage photographs of Indigenous boarding schools in Canada and the U.S. The school building in each photograph is hastily cut out revealing a red, mirrored foil behind it. People are confronted by their own reflections while viewing the pieces to accentuate their active presence in history. The photographs are printed on archival paper as an act to preserve and confront a tragic part of history, in an effort to expand historical knowledge and learn from the past. It also recognizes those children who were silenced over several decades.
Indigenous boarding schools, also known as Native American boarding schools, Indian Residential Schools, and Canadian Indian Residential Schools, were established in the United States and Canada during the late 19th and mid-20th centuries. Their primary objective was to assimilate Indigenous children and youth into European American culture, while at the same time provide basic education in European American subject matters. These boarding schools were first established by Christian missionaries of various denominations, who often started schools on reservations, especially in the minimally populated areas of the West. The U.S. and Canadian governments paid religious orders to provide basic education to Indigenous children on reservations, with the last residential schools closing as late as 1996 (Saskatchewan). The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) founded additional boarding schools based on the assimilation model of the off reservation Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Children were typically immersed in forced changes that removed their Indigenous cultural signifiers like their hair, clothing and language. European names replaced their Indigenous names, and they were forced to abandon their Indigenous identities and cultures to both “civilize” and “Christianize” them. The experience of the schools was usually harsh and sometimes deadly, especially for the young children who were forcibly separated from their families. Investigations in the 20th and 21st century have revealed many documented cases of sexual, physical and mental abuse as well as deaths occurring in many of the schools.