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Photo project with The New Yorker magazine features residential school survivors

REGINA — International photojournalist Daniella Zalcman has partnered with The New Yorker magazine to show her project on Canada's residential school survivors.

Zalcman, who is based in London and New York, says she never heard anything about residential schools until she came to Canada researching a project on HIV rates in colonized countries.

Zalcman was in Saskatchewan between July 31 and Aug. 13, meeting 45 First Nations people.

She says every person she interviewed who was HIV-positive was either a residential school survivor or a child of one or more survivors.

"So that to me became the bigger story that I wanted to focus on," Zalcman said.

Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission report estimated that about 150,000 aboriginal children were taken from their homes and placed in residential schools. It said 6,000 boys and girls, about one in 25, died in residential schools and scores of others endured horrific physical and sexual abuse.

The report, based on interviews with thousands of survivors, detailed the plight of youngsters forcibly separated from their families to endure loneliness, cruelty and physical and mental abuse tantamount to "cultural genocide."

Zalcman's goal is to heighten people's understanding and awareness of residential schools and its aftermath.

"I work on a lot of very dark, heavy stories and this is by far the darkest," she said. "I would say that 80 per cent of them were in some way sexually abused. And many of them were telling me stories that they had never shared with anyone before."

She noted that survivors often cope with what happened through alcohol and substance abuse. The destruction of a cultural identity and self-esteem led to high-risk behaviour in high percentages, she said, including injection drug use and unsafe sex practices, which directly relate to HIV rates.

Her work was sponsored by a grant by the Pulitzer Centre for Crisis Reporting.

It can be seen on The New Yorker magazine photo department's Instagram feed, as well as her own site


Chelsea Lakowski, MBC, The Canadian Press

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