© GUARDIAN PHOTO BY SALLY COLE
Jesse Francis, manager of joint projects for the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I. and Parks Canada, and Judy Clark, advisory committee member, are shown at the entrance of Ni’n na L’nu: The Mi’kmaq of Prince Edward Island. The exhibition runs until Dec. 22 at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown. They are holding a colour companion book of the same name written by A.J.B. Johnston and Francis. Published by Acorn Press, it’s available for sale at the gallery.
There is plenty for Declan Simon to experience as he runs through the five wigwams that make up Ni’n na L’nu: The Mi’kmaq of Prince Edward Island.
Inside one, the voice of narrator Stephen Augustine tells him where his Mi’kmaq ancestors camped and lived on the Island called Epekwitk.
Outside another, Declan runs his fingers along touch cards that show how ash and maple are selected from the forest and picked, split, pounded into strips and woven into beautiful baskets.
Other cards reveal hunting tools that were used by P.E.I. Mi’kmaq thousands of years ago. These include a reproduction stone plummet discovered at Seacow Head in 1989, a piece of a harpoon unearthed on Robinson’s Island in 1988 and a slate ulu found in fishing gear near Souris a few years ago.
Watching her 18-month-old son explore every nook and cranny of the exhibition, which is running in the upper gallery of the Confederation Centre Art Gallery until Dec. 22, his mother is moved.
“It’s amazing to see his energy with the exhibit. He loves it. And even though he’s so young, it’s good for him with actual representations of wigwams because you don’t get to see these too often these days,” says Cheryl Clark Simon, a member of the Abegweit First Nation, who is now living in Dartmouth, N.S.
When he finishes testing everything out, Declan settles back into his mother’s arms.
Then, it’s time for her to share her part of the story. Taking his hand, they walk toward the wigwam called Woman, Man and Child.
Pulling down the flap, it reveals her photo and text.
Declan’s eyes widen, and he smiles as he recognizes the familiar face of his mother, dressed in legal robes on a special day in 2008.
Simon was the first lawyer from the Abegweit First Nation to be called to the bar.
“It’s flattering to be included in the story because of the many amazing Mi’kmaq people that have come before and are living today. It also adds an element of pride because I can also show my son photos of his grandmother and great-grandmother, which is amazing,” says Clark.
It’s the kind of positive reaction organizers of the exhibition are hoping for.
“I’m so proud to have this display for our generations now. It’s incredible. School kids can come and see, ‘yes, this is our wigwam.’ But, if they take a minute to look at it, there is so much information (on the walls and under the flaps). Like our ancestors, we’re storytelling,” says Judy Clark, an elder from the Abegweit First Nation who was selected by her chief and council to be on the exhibition committee.
“I’m also really excited because it’s time for us to pass on information about who we are,” she says.
Getting enthusiastic responses from people attending the exhibition, which also features a colour companion book Ni’n na L’nu: The Mi’kmaq of Prince Edward Island (published by Acorn Press), is significant, says Brian Francis, chief of the Abegweit First Nation and co-chair of the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I.
“Sharing the Mi’kmaq history and culture, within our communities and outside them, is one of the most important things we can do. This book and exhibition give people a broad look at our very long history . . . . It also looks at Mi’kmaq history from many perspectives and will serve as a great resource for those who wish to learn more, such as teachers and students.
“The exhibition has a great deal of content, but people are also making quite an emotional connection with the stories,” he says.
Jesse Francis, who led the development of the travelling exhibition at the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I. and co-wrote the book with A.J.B. Johnston, is pleased with both the positive reaction the show is getting and the high level of co-operation that made the project a reality.
“It is based on extensive research and consultation with Mi’kmaq elders and community members.
“The project was guided with input from an advisory committee, which included representatives of Lennox Island and Abegweit First Nations, Mi’kmaq elders, our provincial archeologist and representatives of the Department of Education and Parks Canada,” says Francis, the manager of joint projects for the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I. and Parks Canada.
Chief Francis, who was involved in the committee, is happy this story is finally being told.
“We at the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I. are very proud of this project,” he says.
AT A GLANCE
What: Ni’n na L’nu: The Mi’kmaq of Prince Edward Island is an exhibition and a book led by the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I.
When and where: It is on view until Dec. 22 at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown.
Future plans: The exhibition will be at Greenwich, P.E.I. National Park, from June to September 2014 and at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Ottawa, from October 2014 to February 2015. “We are in discussion with some of the top Museums in North America and Europe, and reaction is very positive. The exhibition will tour widely,” says Jesse Francis.
Partners: The project was supported, either with funding or technical assistance, by the department of Canadian Heritage, Parks Canada and the government of P.E.I.