The Hamilton Spectator

Pauline Johnson celebratio­n on Sunday honours the late Mohawk poet

Event is making Chiefswood Historic Site accessible to younger generation­s


The Johnson family home will pulse with the words of Mohawk poet E. Pauline Johnson on Sunday, as local performers recite her works in honour of the late icon’s birthday.

“There’s a lot of Pauline fans out there,” Whitlea Henry, tourism coordinato­r of community developmen­t for Six Nations Tourism, told The Spectator.

Hailing from Six Nations of the Grand River, the poet gained notoriety touring Canada, the United States and England in the early 1900s, performing under the stage name Tekahionwa­ke.

Her former residence — Chiefswood National Historical Site — now operates as a museum throughout the summer, and Henry is brimming with ideas for people to creatively engage with it.

“I love a house stuck in time, but we also want to use the space as well,” she told The Spectator on a tour of the 19th-century home.

A youth group regularly rents the space for artistic exploratio­n, and it’s a favourite spot of Six Nations Investigat­ing Paranormal Encounters (SNIPE), the team behind the APTN show “Ghost Hunters of the Grand River.”

However, the sheer volume of Johnson family artifacts — including, but not limited to a selection of the women’s elegant hats, an extensive library, and original furniture, most in pristine condition — has been a barrier to using the space in the way Henry envisions.

“I know it’s a national historic site but we’re trying to make it more hands-on,” she said.

She hopes transferri­ng some items to Woodland Cultural Centre for safekeepin­g will make room for more experienti­al learning, including transformi­ng the front drawing room into an inviting library space.

They’re also looking into how augmented reality (AR) could help show select rooms as they would have been, while keeping them clear of large furnishing­s and artifacts, so they can be used to host intimate events and workshops.

Garden plots and colourful beehives dot the grounds, elements Henry hopes can also factor into future experience­s — particular­ly as visitors frequently express a desire to learn more about Haudenosau­nee culture, she said.

“A lot of people want to learn more about us and we’re more than willing to share,” Henry said, adding that in addition to breaking down barriers, it’s a way to dispel harmful myths about Indigenous people.

“At the end of the day, we just want to educate and welcome everybody.”

The Pauline Johnson birthday celebratio­n, a semiregula­r event, makes its post-COVID return on Sunday, kicking off with a writing workshop led by Alison Fishburn of the Paris Riverside Reading Series in the morning, and readings of select Johnson poems and birthday cake in the afternoon.

The performers include creative writer and academic Dr. Mariam Pirbhai, award-winning Hamilton artist Fareh Malik, and former Miss Six Nations winner and young artist Aleria McKay.

“I’m excited for the lineup because all the poems they picked are pretty awesome,” Henry said.

To register for the event, email sntcoordin­ or call 226-387-2612.

 ?? CELESTE PERCYBEAUR­EGARD THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR ?? Poet Pauline Johnson’s former residence, Chiefswood.
CELESTE PERCYBEAUR­EGARD THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR Poet Pauline Johnson’s former residence, Chiefswood.

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