Collaborative Relations

Indigenous Peoples around the world designed, built and used the first canoes and kayaks. The canoe embodies Indigenous cultural memory – and is a living artifact with both historical and contemporary relevance. Across what is now known as Canada, activity around the canoe has strengthened Indigenous Peoples’ connections to their land, culture, language, and communities. As part of the exhibit design and development process, the museum will invite Indigenous Peoples to share their stories in their own voices as together, we work to preserve and share these artifacts in the collection.

The museum will build upon its more than 20-year history of collaboration with First Peoples, Métis and Inuit individuals, communities and organizations. In 2018, the museum hired Robin Binèsi Cavanagh, a member of Sagamok First Nation, as its new Director of Indigenous Peoples’ Collaborative Relations. Guided by the artifacts in the collection and with the canoe as the connector, Robin and Jeremy Ward, Curator, will be reaching out across the country to build and foster reciprocal relationships.

“In many ways, it is about the space in which the canoe will continue its journey. For some canoes, this may mean returning home. Others may remind us of the journeys we’ve had together, and others yet, may inspire our children to create a canoe of inter-nation-al scope that carries the hope of being and becoming good helpers. On occasion, Elders have been invited to smudge and feast the spirits of the canoes. As we consider ways to honour and awaken the spirit of the canoes, it is my hope that we continue to welcome and build new relations with Indigenous communities and that they may share with us the honour of holding a feast for the canoes.
I look forward to helping facilitate a space where learning and collaborative expression can take place between the museum and Indigenous communities nationwide. An aspiration that sees communities as the experts, with people telling their stories in their own languages and voices.” 
Robin Binèsi Cavanagh

Director of Indigenous Peoples Collaborative Relations

All around the globe, museums are learning to decolonize their practices. In essence, this means sharing authority for the research, documentation and representation of Indigenous culture and looking to acknowledge the impacts of colonization. The exhibit development process supports the museum’s strategic plan, its Principles for Engaging and Consulting with FNMI Communities and its Indigenous Research Methodology developed for collaborative relations research. The new museum’s exhibit spaces will support the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

Knowledge Clusters                                                                                           

The museum has identified knowledge clusters, individuals and communities – both Indigenous and non-Indigenous – in specific geographic regions with connections to canoes in the collection. These knowledge clusters, as they are established and continue to grow, will be the basis for building relationships and facilitating ongoing dialogue. This is one way to ensure that Indigenous Peoples are respectfully engaged throughout the concept, design and production phase of the museum’s exhibits and well into the future.

The curatorial team began its visits to individuals and communities across Canada in June.

Looking Ahead


Summer 2019: Building relations

First visits are dedicated to introducing the project, making connections with knowledge holders and seeking guidance on processes and protocols for engaging individuals and communities. 


Fall 2019: On-site community collaborative research

Second visits will inform the development process in a more precise way, focusing on specific stories, themes, archives and artifacts.


Fall 2019 – 2020: Remote research and creative workshops

This stage will focus on furthering content by bringing specialized knowledge holders together for focused working group at The Canadian Canoe Museum.


2021: Co-creating and sharing material

Third visits will allow for the co-creating of material to be used within the exhibition, such as recordings. These visits will also provide opportunities to acknowledge the collaborative process and the materials produced.


2022 – 2023: Exhibit opening and ongoing relationship building

We will celebrate in multiple voices and languages at the official opening of the new museum and ensuring relationships formed during the exhibit development process are nurtured well into the future.

For further information, please contact:

Jeremy Ward, Curator
(705) 748-9153 X 207 / [email protected]

If you are interested in supporting our collaborative relations work as a donor, please read our case for support.

Design & Build News

New Museum Progress Update

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The new museum: A welcoming home for all our relations

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The following is an introductory blog written by Robin Binèsi Cavanagh, who has recently joined the museum in the new role of Director of Indigenous Peoples’ Collaborative Relations.  I did not understand the significance of my birthplace until my late twenties. I was...

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