• the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's bentwood box by Luke Marston

    The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's bentwood box. Designed and carved by Coast Salish artist Luke Marston, the box travelled the country with the commission and received offerings from residential school survivors symbolizing their journeys toward healing. It appears on the cover of Canadian Geographic's November/December 2017 issue. (Photo: Thomas Fricke/Canadian Geographic)

Choosing the image that will grace the cover of the latest issue of Canadian Geographic magazine is one of the most difficult parts of the production process. That's why we normally create two or three different covers and put them to a vote among our readers. 

But when we looked at the feature stories we had lined up for our November/December 2017 issue, which we dedicated to showcasing Indigenous voices in Canada, it was clear what the cover needed to show. From heartbreaking accounts of life in residential schools as revealed by members of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Survivors Circle, to editor-in-chief Aaron Kylie's in-depth interview with Inuit leader Natan Obed, to Julian Noisecat's hopeful story about a tribal canoe journey to celebrate territory and tradition, the twin threads of truth and reconciliation are tightly woven throughout the magazine. 

For that reason, we asked Thomas Fricke to photograph the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC)'s bentwood box, which today resides at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. 

Among the First Nations of the North American west coast, including the Haida, Gitxsan, Tlingit, Tsimshian and Coast Salish peoples, bentwood boxes (so-called because they are fashioned from a single piece of wood that is steamed and bent into shape) were used to store household and ceremonial items. When the TRC began its work in June of 2009, it commissioned a bentwood box that would travel the country and receive offerings from residential school survivors symbolizing their journeys toward healing. 

Carved from old growth western red cedar by Coast Salish artist Luke Marston, the facets of the TRC bentwood box represent First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples in Canada and honour the strength and resilience of residential school survivors, as well as the memories of those no longer living. 

For inspiration, Marston drew upon the residential school experiences of his own grandmother and great-grandmother, as well as numerous other mentors and elders. "So many of our people suffer from the abuse of residential schools,” he said in 2009. “It was a great honour to carve this box for all the students of former residential schools."

Following its long journey across the country and a stint in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, also in Winnipeg, the box was returned to the NCTR this past January. Marston was present to welcome the box to its permanent home and told UM Today News he's pleased it will remain accessible to survivors and their descendents. 

"I don’t believe that the journey [of the TRC] is over. I don’t think that healing can be done that quickly ... especially with the diversity of the people that were affected through the schools," he said. "I’m happy to see that it’s carrying on and still working and helping people to heal." 

As Canada's sesquicentennial year draws to a close, it's our hope that the striking face on our final cover of 2017 will compel Canadians to explore the pages beyond and engage more deeply with the ongoing story of reconciliation. 

Related: Truth and reconciliation and a sacred bentwood box