The research supported by Arts and Science Class of 1966 in the faculty of Arts Fellowship. examines a series of three photographs held by the McCord Museum that were captured by amateur photographer and residential school teacher, Alice Constance Dunn, who was born in Quebec. Among the many photographs she took at St Michael’s Indian Residential School in Alert Bay, British Columbia, there is a set of three images that showcase a strange and disturbing tableau of children “playing Indian”. It is these photographs, dated 1924, that my research focuses on. St Michaels’, which was demolished in 2015, was a cite of astounding violence and cuiltural genocide. While Dunn’s snapshots of her time spent teaching were not taken with the intent of capturing images of colonial subjugation, they nonetheless act as evidence. In turn, they occupy an uneasy space within the academic archive
Through a lens situated in the critical photography theory of Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, and Ariella Azoulay, and informed by the decolonial scholarship of Eve Tuck, Ann Laura Stoler, and Rayna Green, this research offers an examination of the uses of childhood imaginative play for settler-colonial projects. The stakes of amateur photography that bears witness to national atrocities - such as the Canadian residential school system - and their value within archives additionally informs my reading of these images. Through doing this work I did not attempt to speak for or about the victims captured in the photograph (who remain unidentified), but rather to write with emphasis on the intricate power relations between both object/subject in photography, and witness/experience within the residential school system. I write in respect to the subjects of these photographs, wherever they may be.