Exhibit gives sacred pipes new breath
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
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.