Across Canada and the United States, various iterations of Indian boarding schools were established in the 1800s to force the assimilation of indigenous children into Western culture. Children as young as two years old were taken from their homes and enrolled in compulsory education programs. Many would not reunite with their families for more than a decade; others would never see them again. Students were punished for speaking their native languages or observing indigenous traditions, routinely sexually and physically assaulted, and in some cases, subjected to medical experimentation and sterilization.
While the last residential school in Canada closed in 1996, 59 Indian boarding schools remain in the United States today. The recent history of these schools has left behind a series of lost generations. Zalcman has documented this legacy and its aftermath through the voices of survivors who only recently have begun to share their stories.
Signs of Your Identity reveals portraits of indigenous survivors fighting to overcome their past residential school experiences. The environmental overlays reflect the locations and memories that continue to echo their traumas and pathways to healing.