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The Bentwood Box

The Bentwood Box is a lasting tribute to all residential school Survivors. The sacred box and the items in this collection are deeply personal symbols of their experience.

Bentwood boxes are traditional to the northwest coast with many uses: As oil and food dishes, storage boxes for food, medicine or ceremonial regalia, water buckets, burial boxes, canoe tackle boxes, drum boxes and more. They could also be used to steam food by filling the box with water and dropping stones from a fire into the box.

Bentwood Box
Ry Moran painting on Bentwood Box
group of people at signing ceremony

Commissioned by the TRC in 2009, the Bentwood Box travelled with the TRC to its eight national events throughout Canada, where people placed personal items into the box to symbolize their journey toward healing and expressions of reconciliation. Thousands of items from across the country — including photographs, reports, books, drums, knitted baby blankets, beaded moccasins, a prayer shawl, a suitcase and a Tutchone Warrior’s bow with eagle feathers and four arrows — were donated to this collection. 

Coast Salish artist Luke Marston steamed, bent and carved the box in the traditional style from a single piece of sacred, old-growth red cedar. The artistic styles and imagery in its carved panels represent the distinct cultures of former First Nations, Inuit and Métis residential school students.

“ … it had to have the representation of all the Nations across Canada, so not just where I’m from – the West Coast – but also the Woodlands First Nations and the more northern Inuit territories and the Métis people as well had to be represented on the Box. Looking within their culture, I found inspiration through their art forms as well.” Luke Marston

After its travels with the TRC, the Bentwood Box was featured at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in an exhibit on Truth and Reconciliation. It is now in its permanent residence here at the NCTR, where it continues to be a symbol of hope.

Browse the Bentwood Box Collection – Expressions of Reconciliation 

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NCTR’s spirit name – bezhig miigwan, meaning “one feather”.

Bezhig miigwan calls upon us to see each Survivor coming to the NCTR as a single eagle feather and to show those Survivors the same respect and attention an eagle feather deserves. It also teaches we are all in this together — we are all one, connected, and it is vital to work together to achieve reconciliation.