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.
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 and its Principles for Engaging and Consulting with FNMI Communities. The new museum’s exhibit spaces will support the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.
“At this time in Canada, we are beginning a process for Truth and Reconciliation. Together, we need to learn, understand and acknowledge our shared history. We can’t do that without first knowing and understanding the impact of the canoe in Canada’s story, from those very early times when the first visitors came to our shores. The Canadian Canoe Museum provides us with an opportunity to learn, to feel, to smell, and to see the canoe in its diversity and endurance.”
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 Journey Thus Far
In late 2018 the Museum created a new position, Director of Indigenous Peoples’ collaborative relations, designed to work closely with staff, board, volunteers and to reach out and facilitate relationship building between The Canadian Canoe Museum and Indigenous communities across Canada. Robin Binèsi Cavanagh filled the position for 2019, and together with Curator Jeremy Ward, phase 1 of the collaborative relationship process (building relations) was successfully initiated.
Due to travel restrictions and safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, our collaborative relations in-person visits were cancelled for 2020 and 2021. Thanks to the digital tools we have all grown accustomed to during the pandemic this important work was able to continue and expand.
Currently, the Museum is hiring Indigenous Peoples from 8 different communities as Community Coordinators to support language-related projects that will create content for the new exhibits and support collections care. Building outwards from relations with Curve Lake, Hiawatha, Alderville, and Scugog – local Michi Saagig First Nations on whose territory the Museum resides – the Museum will work with Inuit communities in northern Labrador and Nunavik, the Mi’kmaq in the east, and the Haida Gwaii Museum in the west. In each community, the Museum’s team will gather knowledge about canoes and kayaks, their roles in resource harvesting, changes caused by settlement, and the resurgence of Indigenous watercraft-making and use as part of community healing.
“The Indigenous Languages Program enables Indigenous People from communities of origin for the Museum’s collection to contribute to the creation of the new exhibits and ensures that their voices are heard from the moment the visitor steps into the new building. This work supports Indigenous community goals and protocols and will be transformative for the Museum.”
“The Canadian Canoe Museum has been given an incredible opportunity to create reciprocal relationships with the communities and people that make these canoes and kayaks come alive. I feel honoured to be part of this journey and am looking forward to sharing the stories that make the Museum such a special place.”
2021: Co-creating and sharing material
Working directly with 8 Indigenous Community Coordinators, the Museum will identify specific stories, themes, archives, artifacts and other opportunities for the co-creating of material to be used within exhibitions (e.x: interviews, vocabulary, audio and visual recordings, canoe-building, etc.).
2022: Continued co-creating and exhibit design, exhibit production
Community Coordinators and the Museum’s Exhibits Project and Design teams will continue to work closely to co-create and share materials. Work begins on content review, writing, and translation before moving onto production. All content and knowledge gathered in Indigenous communities (transcripts, interviews, recordings) will be archived in each community as well as with the Museum.
2023: Exhibit opening and ongoing relationship building
We will celebrate in multiple voices and languages at the new museum’s official opening and ensure relationships formed during the exhibit development process are nurtured well into the future. Brand new exhibits and educational programming will be unveiled!
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Design & Build News
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We were thrilled to take CBC News behind the scenes to share why this collection of national significance needs a new home and the exciting moment Kokomis Tchiman, a birchbark canoe built by Métis elder Marcel Labelle, is lifted into the new museum along the water’s edge, where it will be on display in the Exhibition Hall.
The campus will feature a Gathering Circle, a Canoe House, an accessible boardwalk, two seasonal canoe docks, and an adaptive canoe and kayak launch. Photo: Jeremy Ward (Curator), Rodger Wright (Fundraising Cabinet volunteer), Carolyn Hyslop (Executive Director), Stu...
Have you ever considered supporting The Canadian Canoe Museum and our mission long-term? It will allow you to support the Museum you care about, and as a bonus, if you join as a monthly donor during March, CanadaHelps will multiply your donation by adding $20!
Steady progress has been made, but industry-wide construction challenges have delayed the museum’s opening to late summer or early fall.