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Arts & Culture ᐊᔨᐦᑐᐧᐃᓐ

Footprints: A Walk Through Generations gets prestigious showing at Museum of History

BY Ben Powless Sep 27, 2019

For as long as there have been Cree, the Cree have been defining their landscapes.

That’s the message behind Footprints: A Walk Through Generations, the exhibition currently featured at the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa.

Developed by the Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute, the exhibit explores walking as a celebration of the land, teaching, values and history passed down through generations.

Grand Chief Abel Bosum and Cree School Board Chair Sarah Pash attended the September 4 reception that celebrated the exhibition.

Speaking to a crowd that included Ottawa’s cultural elite and people from Eeyou Istchee, Bosum remarked that a “big part of nation building is writing our own history.”

He added that the exhibit “expresses the history and material culture of our people. Our connection to the land is key to understanding our history, which is on display in this exhibition.”

Entering the exhibition space in the main hall of the museum, visitors are able to see typical clothing used in walking-out and first snowshoe walk ceremonies, as well as typical clothing, footwear, sleds and tools used through the generations.

Artwork and photos adorn the walls, inviting visitors to imagine what it was like to cover vast distances by canoe or on foot – or by snowshoe, dogsled or snowmobile. Grainy videos show how modern travel still changes with the seasons, while there are interactive elements for kids.

In total, there are over 150 artifacts that document how the Cree survived and navigated their lands up to modern times. Information materials are written in English, French and Cree, and Cree is heard on audio descriptions accompanying some of the displays.

Pash, who was the director of the institute until her recent election as CSB chair, said that “the landscape defines us, but we define it with our footprints. Eeyou Istchee is a living, breathing example of who we are. We hope that all who visit are inspired by the resilience of our culture, language and ceremony.”

There have been numerous requests from across Canada and outside the country to host the exhibition, Pash noted, meaning that it will be on tour for years.

Bosum, the president of the institute’s board since 2015, said he hoped that “through the exhibition people will see the history of our people, and they’ll tell others that our culture is still alive and well – we still have people living this way of life. We have to maintain our culture, language and traditions.”

Bosum said that non-Cree hadn’t seen much of this material before, and that it is helping “to educate Canadians on who we are.”

He added that the Cree have also been encouraged by the exhibit. “Young people are amazed at some of the material,” Bosum enthused. “The stories behind them touched them too, we’ve heard they’re very proud now of their roots.”

The exhibition in Ottawa runs until November 3. 

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Ben Powless is a Kanien'kehá:ka and Anishnabek writer and photographer, currently living in Ottawa. He has a degree in Human Rights, Indigenous and Environmental Studies from Carleton University.