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Photo of red dresses hung on crosses along B.C. roadside wins world photo award

Amber Bracken's photo of red dresses hung on crosses along the roadside has won the World Press Photo Contest. Amber Bracken

Warning: This story deals with disturbing subject matter that may upset and trigger some readers. Discretion is advised.

A Canadian photographer has won this year’s World Press Photo Award for a powerful residential school image.

Amber Bracken, a freelance photojournalist who is based in Edmonton, captured the photo of red dresses hung on crosses along a roadside to commemorate the children who died at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

The story broke last May when the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Nation in Kamloops said a section of land was searched at the former school with ground-penetrating radar and what were believed to be the remains of up to 215 children were found.

“This winner represents the awakening of a shameful history that is finally being addressed in Canada,” the jury said in a statement.

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“It is a perfect image which captures a rare light, and is at once haunting, arresting, and symbolic. The sensory image offers a quiet moment of reckoning with the global legacy of colonization and exploitation, while amplifying the voices of First Nations communities who are demanding justice. The single image requires an active eye, and encourages us to hold governments, social institutions, and ourselves accountable.

“The jury awarded this image the World Press Photo of the Year because it summarizes a global history of colonial oppression that must be addressed in order to tackle the challenges of the future.”

Read more: ‘I’m getting tired of watching my people falter’ — B.C. residential school survivor reflects on life

Click to play video: 'Tk’emlúps to present findings from survey of 215 graves' Tk’emlúps to present findings from survey of 215 graves
Tk’emlúps to present findings from survey of 215 graves – Jul 11, 2021

About 7,000 square metres of land, or just under two acres of the former school site, were covered from May 21 to 24 by ground-penetrating radar, or GPR, around the apple orchard at the Secwépemc Museum and Heritage Park.

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Read more: ‘The sun is shining on the Vatican’ — B.C. First Nations leaders react to Pope Francis’ apology

Last week, Pope Francis apologized for the grave and lasting harm caused by the church- and state-sponsored residential school system.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the B.C. Indian Chiefs, told Global News he was uplifted by the apology he heard.

“I was absolutely surprised, I wasn’t expecting this. It’s a double-wow Friday for sure. The sun is shining on the Vatican and our people have waited for a very, very long time to hear those beautiful words whereby the Pope, the Vatican has taken responsibility and has acknowledged the genocidal abuses of the residential school system and has committed to Canada and meeting with Indigenous people to continue this journey along this path after the door has been opened, fully opened,” Phillip said.

The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.

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