Section 119 of the Indian Act

Section 119 of the Indian Act is a self-operating machine that retells Canadian history from a Native American perspective. According to the original Indian Act, created in 1876, the ministry granted permission to truant officers to take all native children from their homes and enforce their attendance at schools run by the church. The purpose was to force the children to adopt European values and punish traditional indigenous practices. There are many accounts of these children being harmed emotionally, physically and sexually at these schools and residual effects are apparent in today’s aboriginal people. The piece shows the moment one child is swiped from her mother and transported to a Residential School. The intent of this piece is to educate the general public on a significant factor that has affected Native Americans.

The diorama frames two juxtaposing scenes and a group of actors at the center of the piece. The duration of the piece is short with only one climatic event; the moment the child is swiped from the mother, who is positioned on one side of the stage, and taken by the officer to the school to the opposite side of the stage. The backdrop is split in two, with one half showing a traditional Native American house and the other half includes the appearance of a typical Residential School. The rigging is hidden from the audience by a side of the box as to keep the viewer’s attention on the action of the players. The action of the officer is bending and pivoting from one side to the next. The child rotates around the officer so that she moves from one half of the stage to the other. The mother is bending over too late to take the child. The piece is a self-contained depiction of the event and the only user interaction is the viewer rotating a single crank protruding from the side of the box.

The combination of diorama and automata allows Section 119 to be both a story-telling piece and an educational piece. Artist David Hoffos uses dioramas with dramatic lighting and elaborate sets to capture the imagination of the viewer and consume their attention. Section 119 does the same with the ornate set and an intriguing background. The Royal Ontario Museum uses dioramas to gather scientific field studies into a tangible and relatable medium so to capture the attention of the viewer. Section 119 is a scene from a real event in history and is therefore also educational. The need to make this scene comes from misleading information provided in high school and media outlets that downplay the breech in human rights experienced by Native Americans. Furthermore, lack in understanding from incomplete media images of Native Americans has hindered the formation of a social support network amongst other demographics in Canada and has instead facilitated a racist attitude towards identified aboriginals. Section 119 aims to foster greater understanding for the domino effect of events that have contributed to the state of native affairs today and hopefully create appeal to the indigenous culture.

Group Members: Tamara, Zaid and Joy

My Contribution:

My group was keen to choose a topic in the realm of injustice and I had just written the speech on Indigenous Education Models in Canada and so I offered the idea of focusing on Residential Schools. I went ahead in wrote the proposal and proposed a design for the diorama and mechanisms for the automata. I figured how the movements would be created using the parts presented in class and built five prototypes before settling on a final layout. Finally, I wrote the code for the dramatic lighting and figured out the proper wiring for the hardware. I offered support to my teammates and made time to attend group meetings.