The Atikokan Centennial Museum has won an award of excellence in community engagement from the Ontario Museum Association. It was presented October 12 at the OMA’s the annual conference in Kingston.
The award was for Revealing the Regalia: Honouring Anishinaabe culture through dance, the Museum’s take on Jaret Veran’s experience representing his community as part of the ceremonies at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The 2016 exhibit included his traditional regalia and several local Indigenous objects.
The OMA award recognized the way the exhibit increased the community’s engagement with the museum.
“In addition to traditional ceremonies, Veran shared his journey, and Elder Nancy Jones offered teachings of the traditional care of regalia and Anishinaabe culture. The relationships that were nurtured throughout the development process have grown into a flourishing partnership that continues with new collaborative projects to better serve the entire Atikokan community,” noted the OMA.
“It all started with Jaret Veran wanting to share his regalia with the community, rather than store it in the back of his closet,” said museum curator Lois Fenton. “His brother made a display case, complete with a mirror so that the painting on the back of the regalia could be enjoyed.”
The Museum worked several months to put the exhibit together, with contributions from the Friends of the Museum (it purchased an area rug to define the exhibit space) and museum staff (they fashioned Olympic rings), and started searching for appropriate artifacts to accompany the display.
The Atikokan Native Friendship Centre (Jaret Veran is coordinator of its healing and wellness program) was front and centre in planning the exhibit, and curator Fenton called that collaboration vital to its success.
In August 2016 the Museum and the Atikokan Native Friendship Centre collaborated for the exhibit opening. Jaret talked about his experience, and showed videos of the Youth Gathering and the Olympic Opening. Elder Jones offered prayers and Ojibwa teachings. The food was authentic, the room was enhanced with artifacts from a private collection, guests heard drumming and were introduced to Ojibwa traditions, to sacred sweet grass and tobacco.
“The Museum and the Centre [ANFC] now have a common history, a successful event having attracted 75 visitors, and a familiarity in communicating,” said Fenton. “Together they have reached a new relationship that continues to evolve.”
This exhibit, and the ANFC – Centennial Museum collaboration, has gone beyond Atikokan in another way, too.
The Indigenous Collections Symposium, a partnership project of the OMA, the Woodland Cultural Centre (Brantford), and the Indigenous Knowledge Centre at the Six Nations Polytechnic, responded to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission call-to-action by encouraging a new dialogue about Indigenous collections, care, and interpretation.
One of its first steps was to call for presentations that would showcase the realities of collaborative work, and their impacts on museums and Indigenous communities.
Fenton figured this ANFC – Centennial Museum collaboration fit the bill, and the hosts agreed. She presented the whole story at the symposium held at the Knowledge Centre at Six Nations Polytechnic, Brantford, in March. Over one hundred participants took part, providing overwhelmingly positive feedback. A publication of the symposium proceedings, in three languages, will be published by the University of Toronto and the OMA.