A Grand Cree Travelling Exhibition Opens in the Subarctic
“Footprints: A Walk Through Generations”
“Empreintes de pas : Une marche à travers les générations”
Published in MUSE 2017
On April 12, 2017, the Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute (ACCI) in Oujé-Bougoumou, Quebec, organized a day-long event, welcomed elders, leaders, community members of all ages and partners from the south to celebrate the opening of the ACCI’s inaugural travelling exhibition Footprints: A Walk Through Generations. Numbering 200, with the youngest at 3 months wrapped in a moss bag, feelings of pride in community and Cree heritage overflowed. The outstanding professionalism of the management, staff and guides who were on hand to assist visitors resulted in a seamless and well-paced event. The large number of non-indigenous professionals, business people and scholars in attendance attests to the importance of continuous learning about the Cree people in order to foster sustainable partnerships.
The Cree who’s who showed up, including Dr. Abel Bosum, President of ACCI, Rodney Mark, Deputy Grand Chief, Lance Cooper, Deputy Chief of the Oujé-Bougoumou Cree Nation, Dr. Sarah Pashagumskum, Executive Director of ACCI, Curator, Natasia Mukash and Matt Iserhoff, Juno award winning musician. The Grand Finale brought the five-hour event to a close when Matthew Coon Come, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and now Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) addressed the crowd. He expressed his conviction that “our culture and way of life is still alive and thriving, and with exhibitions like Footprints, young people can seek healing and we pass on knowledge to make our way of life strong again”. ACCI is one of the centers “I’m very proud of where we can tell our stories and where our elders teach us” he said. Coon Come’s steadfast message of reconciliation and relationship building reinforce dynamic collaborative coexistence.
Footprints may be a dense show with lots of text and pictures. It is also a relevant and timely exhibition for Indigenous peoples and other Canadians living in a fast-paced and contemporary world. The show follows the evolution of travel through the eyes of the Cree as it teaches and shares ancient knowledge, practices and language for modern times. It tells the story of walking on the land as a nomadic people, moving from region to region and season to season as a way of life for hunters and trappers who depend on the land. It demonstrates how the many ways and means of walking in the forest reinforces what science is teaching us about the health benefits of spending time in nature. Only, the Cree knew it a long time ago. The 150 contemporary and historic artifacts punctuate the intensity of the exhibition experience.
The exhibition is arranged in spiral sections winding into an intimate center recalling the structure of a teepee. The thematic markers are “The Earth is Our Mother”, “Rites of Passage”, “Clothing Through Generations”, “Wealth of Our Land”, “Strength of Our People”, “Travelling through Time and Eeyou Istchee” (Cree for “Land of the People”), “The Backbone of our Culture”, and “Walking with our Past to a Better Future”.
We learn about stories, art and traditional technologies passed down from Cree ancestors. Footprints is an expression of living life well and encourages healthy habits and connection with the land. Among the artifacts and art works there are several detailed and decorative outfits made for little ones taking their first steps on Mother Earth that can be seen up close along with gloves, mitts, boots, bags, sleds and snowshoes. Photographs, film and sound recordings enhance the experience.
Dr. Sarah Pashagumskum (Pash) explained that the “exhibit celebrates who we are as Cree people and our connection to the land we have travelled across and lived with for centuries. It invites visitors to celebrate our culture and to share knowledge about our history, ceremonies and stories. This sharing and celebration of Cree culture and history is of central importance to ACCI, a vision given to us by our Elders”.
Footprints was created by the ACCI in collaboration with other Cree communities and Elders and is co-curated by Natasia Mukash and Paula Menarick. Panels are in Cree syllabics, French and English. This travelling exhibition was made possible with a grant from the Federal Government’s Museums Assistance Program and will travel to nine Cree Communities (http://www.gcc.ca/communities/comnav.php) before making its way across Canada. Look for it at the Canadian Museum of History in 2019.
For exhibition details contact Dr. Sarah Pash, Executive Director of ACCI. Sarah.firstname.lastname@example.org 418-745-2444
Review by Erica Claus, Ottawa, April 24, 2017.