‘We are all treaty peo­ple’

Cel­e­brat­ing an­ces­tors by pass­ing along tra­di­tional knowl­edge, cul­tural prac­tices

Cape Breton Post - - Community Connections - Jane Arnold

“I do this work to hon­our those who have gone be­fore, and I lay the foot­work for those who have yet to come. This is all a con­tin­uum of Indige­nous ex­cel­lence, and you are here to wit­ness it.” Jeremy Dutcher’s ac­cep­tance speech, 2018 Po­laris Prize Gala.

Dur­ing the re­cent Lu­mière Arts Fes­ti­val, I joined more than 300 peo­ple to watch Jeremy Dutcher in con­cert at the United Her­itage Church, on the tra­di­tional and un­ceded Mi’kmaw lands of Unama’ki, Cape Bre­ton Is­land.

For those not fa­mil­iar with Dutcher’s work, he was awarded the pres­ti­gious 2018 Po­laris Prize for his de­but record­ing “Wo­las­to­qiyik Lin­tuwakon­awa” (wool-las-two-wi-ig lint-twowah-gun-ah-wa) which in­te­grates archival record­ings of his an­ces­tors with new com­po­si­tions that tran­scend mu­si­cal bound­aries.

As a part of this five-year project, Dutcher worked in the ar­chives at the Cana­dian Mu­seum of His­tory, tran­scrib­ing Wo­las­toq songs from 1907 wax cylin­ders.

To­day, ar­chiv­ists of­ten work with artists, cre­ators and knowl­edge keep­ers to un­cover new col­lab­o­ra­tions and ways to in­ter­pret and share the cul­tural ma­te­ri­als held in in­sti­tu­tions.

Staff at Cape Bre­ton Univer­sity who vol­un­teer with Lu­mière worked to bring Dutcher to Unama’ki to share in this “con­tin­uum of Indige­nous ex­cel­lence” at this im­por­tant mo­ment in his­tory.

An­other in­stal­la­tion dur­ing Lu­mière was a the­atri­cal per­for­mance of Muin aqq L’uiknek te’si­jik Ntuk­suinu’k (Muin and the Seven Bird Hunters), a well­known Mi’kmaw leg­end.

Lead­ing up to the per­for­mance, Joel Denny and mem­bers of the Denny fam­ily ed­u­cated and en­ter­tained the crowd with demon­stra­tions of songs and dances of the L’nu, in­clud­ing Ko’jua, the most pop­u­lar genre of tra­di­tional Mi’kmaw song and dance.

Like Dutcher’s work, Joel Denny is cel­e­brat­ing his an­ces­tors by pass­ing along tra­di­tional knowl­edge and cul­tural prac­tice shared with him by his par­ents Sarah and Noel Denny that might oth­er­wise have been lost.

The Beaton In­sti­tute is cur­rently work­ing with Denny to pre­serve and make avail­able the Sarah Denny Cul­tural Col­lec­tion, an im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of L’nu oral his­to­ries, dance demon­stra­tions, chants, sto­ries and songs which doc­u­ments the legacy of Sarah and Noel Denny and their fam­ily from the com­mu­nity of Eskasoni.

Two CBU stu­dents from Eskasoni, Jerri-Ann Mar­shall and Prom­ise Syl­li­boy, have been hired through the Nova Sco­tia Cul­ture In­no­va­tion Fund. They are us­ing their ex­per­tise and flu­ency in Mi’kmaq to fully de­scribe con­tent, pro­vide trans­la­tions, fa­cil­i­tate dig­i­ti­za­tion, and help host in­ter­view ses­sions with Joel Denny.

The Beaton In­sti­tute, like most cul­tural ar­chives in Canada, is try­ing to work to­ward a “de-colo­nial sen­si­bil­ity” within the ar­chive when work­ing with Indige­nous-cre­ated col­lec­tions.

Es­sen­tially this means in­sti­tu­tions are do­ing things dif­fer­ently, rec­og­niz­ing that a more in­clu­sive and par­tic­i­pa­tory ap­proach is needed. Ul­ti­mately, we want to learn from Joel Denny, and have his own words in­form the col­lec­tion de­scrip­tions rather than im­pose set­tler in­ter­pre­ta­tions on the con­tent.

We hope that, like Dutcher’s work, these sig­nif­i­cant record­ings will find their way into new and cre­ative ex­plo­rations of L’nu cul­ture as well as high­light the ig­nored his­tory of our Indige­nous peo­ples.

An­other cur­rent cul­tural ini­tia­tive at the Cape Bre­ton Univer­sity Art Gallery is the ex­hibit Red Ris­ing Hoods by artist Teresa Mar­shall.

Thought­ful and cre­ative ap­proaches to pre­sent­ing Mi’kmaw cloth­ing and craft speaks to and pro­motes the strength, tal­ent and wis­dom of women in L’nu cul­ture. As well, other pieces in­cor­po­rate ma­te­ri­als from the nat­u­ral world like deer tails, bone and hide, some­times dis­played with a sense of hu­mour and some­times with con­dem­na­tion for past and present in­jus­tices. I be­lieve that cul­tural awak­en­ing and dis­cov­ery through song, dance, art and lan­guage can help us to­gether on the road to rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

Dur­ing Oc­to­ber’s Mi’kmaq His­tory Month, I en­cour­age you to ex­plore the shared re­spon­si­bil­ity and mean­ing of the term “We Are All Treaty Peo­ple” by vis­it­ing Red Ris­ing Hoods at the art gallery, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the work by Jeremy Dutcher, and learn­ing more about Sarah Denny and her cul­tural legacy at beat­onin­sti­tute.com/sarah­denny, or visit the Mi’kmaq Re­source Cen­tre here at CBU.

Jane Arnold is an ar­chiv­ist at the Beaton In­sti­tute at Cape Bre­ton Univer­sity. Arnold also par­tic­i­pates as a board mem­ber with Her­itage Cape Bre­ton Con­nec­tion, the Old Sydney So­ci­ety and works with the Coun­cil of Nova Sco­tia Ar­chives.


Joel Denny ex­plain­ing the game of Waltes at the Mi’kmaq Re­source Cen­tre at Cape Bre­ton Univer­sity.


A Mi’kmaq peaked cap, part of the Red Ris­ing Hoods ex­hibit by artist Teresa Mar­shall at the Cape Bre­ton Univer­sity Art Gallery.


Sarah Denny, 1985.

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