Sarah Pashagumskum Transcript

Waachiyaa. Kinana'skomitina'wa'w.

I'm really grateful to be here today on unceded, unsurrendered Algonquin territory and kinana'skomitin mistahi Claudette Commanda for opening this in such a good way. Miigwetch.

I feel so good about being here because of that and to be, to have heard Elder Commanda make reference to the concept of Miyupimaatisiiwin which is how we live our life in a good way.

And that's really what the work of Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute is all about. It's based in the concept of aanischaa which it means and refers to the transmission of knowledge from generation to generation. What we need to be, what we need to retain, to maintain our identity and to be ourselves into the future as Indigenous peoples.

So I'll just show you a little, talk to you a little bit about our territory. This is our our territory, Eeyou Istchee and you can see that it's quite a large part of the province of Quebec. We're in northern Quebec on the coast of James Bay and Hudson Bay.

This is a map of our communities.  We have ten communities in our nation. And the picture on the right shows the community of Oujé-Bougoumou where our cultural institute is located.

Our mission flows from the knowledge that Cree culture and language must be captured and maintained, shared celebrated, and practiced. Cree Elders have spoken of the need for a central place for the protection of the ways and have developed a vision for Aanischaaukamikw over several decades.

Our Cree Cultural Institute is the realization of that vision and it's the primary location for the preservation of our heritage including documents, media, and physical objects designed for preservation and conservation and knowledge transfer.

More than anything, it's a living, breathing symbol of our determination as Eeyou to preserve and share the stories, the legends, the music, the pictures, the physical objects, that show our people's unique interaction with the land expressed through hunting, fishing, trapping, and underscored with a reverence of the land we've always walked.

This is a picture of our main exhibit hall. We have a permanent exhibit in there and of course we do rotations, but this is where we have our main exhibit. What I'm going to talk about today is our traveling exhibit.

But I'll just talk to you a little bit  about what we do at the Cultural Institute. This picture shows the repatriation of a beaded hood. It's a woman's ceremonial hood from around the 1840s and it was brought back to the community of Mistissini and here it is being reunited with the family—the women, the female descendants of the original hood bearer.

And so this was a very special and powerful moment, really emotional. And it was powerful in that it was able to help the descendants of this woman make a connection, a physical connection, to their history.

And these beaded hoods are not seen in our territory anymore and so this is part of a whole revivalof culture and ceremony and reconnecting us to our roots and where we came from. And that connection to our ancestors is really what we're all about.

Really what makes us unique as a museum and as a cultural institute, is that we view our ability to work as an answer back to the traditional, you know encyclopedic, collecting that's done in museums.

And also to show that as Indigenous people we aren't the sum of, our identities aren't the sum of, you know, some colonial collector's collection, and that we're not, our stories are not completely told through anthropological research and archaeological research that's made notes in notebooks that have ended up as exhibits in exhibit halls in colonial museums.

We're a living, breathing culture and we're living, breathing people and we have the ability to tell our own stories as we see fit and to share what we see fit as of our cultures with the outside, with the outside world.

And we believe that it's part of being self determining in heritage management and that through being self determining in heritage management, we'll ensure that we continue to thrive and that our heritage is accessible to our children and our grandchildren for many generations to come.

So we do use standard museological practices but we do adapt them when we need to. And we also believe that the ability to self-curate is of utmost importance. 

So, our exhibit, "Footprints: A Walk Through Generations", received funding from Heritage Canada's Museum Assistance Program and was also supported by our regional government, the Cree Nation Government and by the Ministry of Culture and Communications of Quebec.

The exhibit opened at the Institute and then traveled through all of our 10 communities, which was quite a feat because we do have 10 communities and, as you saw in the map, we're spread out geographically. And our northernmost community is only a fly-in community and so getting the exhibit to that community was very important to make sure that they were able to participate fully, but it was also quite difficult.

In May, the exhibit will be traveling to the Canadian Museum of History and it'll be there for ten months so it'll be able to be enjoyed by people in the South here.

The content selected for Footprints reveals our inherent and deep understanding of the objects and the landscape where we and our materials come from. Our food, our clothing, through the objects, photographs memories, stories, songs, and legends.

The materials used to create the objects demonstrates the wealth of resources on our land while the techniques illustrate our skill and artistry and the ways we pass traditional knowledge through generations.

Audio, video and photographs reveal the sights, sounds of our land and our people. Compelling artwork from our contemporary artists is featured throughout the exhibit.

We had quite an extensive consultation process and research process when we developed the exhibit. We had a content team of staff from the Institute itself, but we also had members of the content team from all of our communities. All of our communities have cultural departments and run cultural programs and so we had them as part of the committee as well.

People are our best resources and our Elders are who we learn from. We wanted to gather information in a variety of ways and to get as many stories and objects related to the exhibit as possible, so we spent eight months of the exhibit development project gathering information related to walking, while the content team focused on the main exhibit themes and narratives to showcase what was coming from the communities.

We gathered information in some unconventional ways; we had a Facebook group, our institute's Facebook page, from directly talking to community members one-on-one from interviews through regional public like our nation magazine, from CBC and the National Film Board movies like the Crees of Paint Hills and the Hunters of Mistassini, and also from books, our own publication, the Mind's Eye: Stories from Whapmagoostui, are all stories that came from Elder consultations.

I'll talk a little bit about the themes of the exhibit now. Our main theme of the exhibit was: the Earth is Our Mother. And Itschee means land in our language. Itschee is where we, the Eeyou, have lived and walked for countless generations. Eeyou Itschee, not merely a physical place, is also a living, breathing extension of who we are.

Our ancestral teachings encourage profound respect for the land and all life forms found there. Ancient walking trails and campsites throughout our territory reveal our Eeyou footprints and they confirm the occupation of our territory through millennia and the vast distances of our journey.

We also talk about our rites of passage in the in the exhibit. We're connected to our land and through all life forms through Chishaaminiuu, the Great Spirit. From birth, our Elders and our families along with guiding forces that have existed since the beginning of time teach us the Eeyou way of life.

As we celebrate these different milestones, such as our footprints on Mother Earth, we celebrate sacred rites of passage. And these rites of passage transfer the knowledge that children need to grow from childhood into adulthood to become a part of our communities and to be a part of creation.

And you can see in this picture we have a photo of a child who is going through their walking out ceremony and then we have another photo of some young adolescents who are going through their first snowshoe walk.

And these are all ceremonies that take us from birth into adulthood. The child is being introduced to Creation as she takes her first steps on Mother Earth.

And this is a really important life, a part in time and of bringing a child into the circle of the family and the circle of the community and ensuring that they have a place in the world and that they know they have a place in the world.

We talk about our clothing through generations and the way that hides and furs protected us in all seasons and as we walked over our vast territory.

We believe that the animal's strength and spiritual power are transferred to the person wearing the clothing. These garments are decorated with love and care to honour the animals and the land and to favour a successful hunt.

Even today animal hides and furs provide superior protection against harsh weather compared to manufactured materials.

We also talk about Eeyou-Iyitwin, the Cree way of life, the way of our people. And how it enables us to sustain ourselves using natural resources available on the land. From childhood we learn to walk vast distances across Eeyou Itschee seeking animals and plants to nourish and clothe us and trees to shelter us.

We are taught to respect and honour all that we hunt and gather. The walking way of life keeps our minds strong willed, our spirits resilient, and our bodies well nourished and healthy.

One of the really central parts of our exhibit, because we believe in using our language to maintain our language and ensuring that our language is shared so that others who will see the value in it is Iiyiyiuyimuwin and that is the backbone of our culture.

In this section of the exhibit, there are three main sections.

We have a section dedicated to âtalôhkân, which are our legends, our central mythology. And they teach us about creation and about our ancestors. Their important teachings and their lessons are passed down from generation to generation.

We also talk about our nikamôwin, our songs that are sung during celebrations and during ceremonies while making traditional tools, while making clothing, while hunting, when gathering, when walking. Each song has a sacred meeting and it connects us to our Creator, our animals and all that has life and everything that is given to us in life.

We also talked about tipacimowina, which are our stories that are specifically related to events and experiences and are shared to transfer knowledge from and important teachings and information. And today, still, our Elders tell us knowledge about seasonal journeys in the past when people walked in great distances over days and nights.

We talk about traditional forms of transportation including walking, canoeing, portaging, snowshoeing, and dog sledding and all that these have meant to us over time.

We kept strong and healthy as we moved across the land following the migration of the animals and reuniting with families at seasonal gatherings. Today we still practice hunting and gathering but have adopted some different ways of traveling.

In recent history we faced many challenges to Eeyou-iyihtwin,  the Cree way of life and miyupimaatisiiwin, living life well.

Certain events have left contemporary generations with physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wounds and have physically scarred Eeyou Istchee, our land. To overcome these traumas we are reasserting the importance of walking for physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellness.

In recent years, we've organized journeys; walking vast distances to publicly demonstrate the renewal and continuity of our lifestyle.

We celebrate milestones, practicing ceremonies and speak our language so we can carry ourselves into a stronger and a brighter future.

Walking inspires us to live in harmony with all things, maintains our connection to the land and enables us to transfer our ancient knowledge for the health and well-being of future generations.

This is the final panel in the exhibit and I think that it really speaks to everything that the exhibit is about and to what Aanischauukamikw is about. It's a quote from one of our Elders.

He says, "The wind blows in all directions... Not everything that's in the mind is healthy. Go for a walk and let nature do its work. Listen to the wind."

And this is a photo of the lobby of the Cultural Institute, just showing what we're there for. There's a group of schoolchildren there who are learning to to bead and learning about the history of beading and the territory and how the clothing, how to make clothing.

And so I thought it really showed what we're there for our past and our present and our future.

Kinana'skomitina'wa'w. Thank you very much. Merci.