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Arts & Culture ᐊᔨᐦᑐᐧᐃᓐ

Visiting the past

BY Will Nicholls Apr 11, 2023

As artist and writer Maira Kalman once said, “A visit to a museum is a search for beauty, truth and meaning in our lives. Go to museums as often as you can.”

While in New York City, the Nation took Kalman’s advice and visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art (aka The Met) and the National Museum of the American Indian. Both museums had exhibits pertaining to or curated by First Nations and the Inuit. 

Much like Eeyou Istchee’s award-winning Aanishchaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute, these museums preserve and exhibit important cultural, artistic, historical or scientific artifacts. The exhibits do more than simply provide informative and visual explorations, they help to teach, inspire and connect people and communities. They are places that involve researching, collecting, interpreting and showing all aspects of a distinct heritage in an understandable way. 

Well, at least they try. As William Thorsell, director of the Royal Ontario Museum, noted, “Museums should be places where you raise questions, not just show stuff.” 

Looking at the stuff is part of what they call informal learning, which is about 90% of the education that stays with you throughout your life. That’s one reason, among many, why there should be field trips for Cree youth to these two New York museums.

Seeing the roots of different cultures gives you a greater understanding of how they perceive the world. When two or more cultures interact and share knowledge it leads to great advances for humankind. It also introduces different ways to experience and understand the world. 

Some of the exhibits at the Met involving First Nations featured a museum statement on certain pieces, but also included a Native Perspective statement right next it.

Yes, our youth should go to Aanishchaaukamikw to see our heritage, but they should have an opportunity to visit these world-renowned museums in New York. They will gain so much from them and bring home those experiences, ideas, inspiration and knowledge to share with all of us.

The Nation saw the beaded hood that toured our communities in 2016. But that was the only evidence we could see of the James Bay Cree. 

The Nation would suggest that if a school trip is made to New York, it should take various artefacts prepared by Aanishchaaukamikw. These could include a drum, tamarack geese, a snow shovel, a crooked knife or a pair of beavertail snowshoes. Done right, it could get a lot of publicity for both museums and the Cree Nation. 

Perhaps Aanishchaaukamikw could even attract new supporters from outside Canada. In any case, looking at the interpretations of history, looking at the different viewpoints of the world and seeing how they apply to ourselves can give us pride in simply being human.

For all images and works discussed please go to the magazine section of our website!

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Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.