Ex­hibit gives sa­cred pipes new breath

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ARTS - By Kevin Prokosh

BE­FORE abo­rig­i­nal treaty pipes could be placed on pub­lic dis­play, the Man­i­toba Mu­seum hosted a day­long feast to in­vite the sa­cred ar­ti­facts to speak for First Na­tions people. “Pipes are con­sid­ered an­i­mate, a kind of per­son, by Anishi­naabe people,” says Mau­reen Matthews, the mu­seum’s cu­ra­tor of eth­nol­ogy and of its lat­est ex­hi­bi­tion, We Are All Treaty People. “They are ad­dressed like an­other per­son and are some­times called grand­fa­ther.” Matthews, who con­ceived the ex­hibit that opened ear­lier this month, had to con­vince re­luc­tant elders to show revered and rarely seen pipes, beaded pipe bags, head­dresses and other cer­e­mo­nial ob­jects col­lected in the mu­seum’s sa­cred stor­age area. They are only moved with per­mis­sion of the elders. “People are not easy to trust in these sit­u­a­tions; some of the ob­jects have been lost to theft in the past,” says Jamie Wil­son, com­mis­sioner of the Treaty Re­la­tions Com­mis­sion of Man­i­toba. “But the elders came to the con­clu­sion that if they wanted their chil­dren to see these things they would have to al­low them to go on pub­lic dis­play.” We Are All Treaty People, pre­sented in the mu­seum’s Dis­cov­ery Room, fea­tures five au­then­tic treaty medals, an orig­i­nal chief’s coat, an 1875 parch­ment com­mis­sion for Treaty No. 4, a his­tor­i­cal por­trait of chiefs and the cer­e­mo­nial pipes. The old­est medal is from 1812 and was given by Lord Selkirk to Chief Peguis. The treaty medals or documents rep­re­sent­ing the Crown’s con­trac­tual obli­ga­tions have been part­nered with pipes and pipe bags that sym­bol­ize the First Na­tions’ com­mit­ment to that treaty. First Na­tions’ lead­ers agreed to 11 num­bered treaties be­tween 1871 and 1921. Canada gained ac­cess to their home­lands in re­turn for prom­ises to pro­vide for the well-be­ing of abo­rig­i­nal people. Treaties are a grow­ing and con­tentious is­sue in the city and prov­ince as First Na­tions push to es­tab­lish an ur­ban re­serve and de­velop sur­plus mil­i­tary land on what was Kapy­ong Bar­racks as an eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment

SUP­PLIED PHOTO

From left, por­traits of Chief Wil­liam Berens and Chief Ja­cob Berens by Mar­ion Nel­son Hooker; coat worn by Wil­liam Berens, given to him by the govern­ment; coat given to Ja­cob Berens on the oc­ca­sion of sign­ing Treaty No. 5 in 1875; em­broi­dered moose-hide jacket made by Nancy Berens.

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