Cree Cultural Institute receives Governor General’s honour for Footprints exhibition

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The Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute picked up the Governor General’s prestigious History Award for Excellence in Museums for its exhibit Footprints: A Walk Through Generations during an elaborate ceremony in Rideau Hall in Ottawa January 28.

Governor General Julie Payette presented the award to Sarah Pash, the institute’s executive director during the travelling exhibit, and to Grand Chief Abel Bosum, who has served as its president since 2015.

The exhibit features over 150 artefacts from Cree life, as well as photos, video, audio and contemporary art, showing off traditional stories, art and technologies linked to the theme of walking and movement.

The work showcases innovations that helped the Cree survive and navigate on their lands, from everyday items like moccasins and snowshoes, to hunting, fishing and trapping tools, to ceremonial outfits for children’s rites of passages.

The idea of the exhibit came out of consultation with community members and Elders. “The theme of walking came up over and over again talking to Elders about how central it is to our relationship with our land and culture,” Pash explained.

From there, they brought in two researchers and curators, Paula Menarick and Natasia Mukash, to oversee the process.

They continued to consult community groups, Elders and individuals across different communities, as well as doing outreach on social media.

Language eventually emerged as a prominent theme.

“As an Indigenous museum and cultural institute, it’s important that we always assert that our language is central and needs to be maintained,” Pash told the Nation.

“If we have something we’re sharing with the public, we have to make sure our language is first and foremost, so people beyond Eeyou Istchee understand how it needs to be maintained and why it’s connected to who we are.”

Pash said she was excited about receiving the award, as it indicates how far the cultural institute has come since it opened in late 2011. “Having this level of recognition shows we’re on the right track.”

She also sees the cultural institute as an important reminder that the Cree can and should be telling their own stories.

For too long, Canadian museums and academics have thought they were the only ones who could tell Cree stories, according to Pash. But that’s no longer the case.

“We have our own expertise, our own institute that’s on par with any national museum. There’s no reason we can’t be doing this for ourselves,” Pash said. “It’s time for southern museums and academics to lay off and give space for Indigenous voices to be heard.”

The exhibit began at the Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute in Oujé-Bougoumou in April 2017.

After travelling through all the Cree communities, the exhibit is currently in Amos, for a short time. In May, it will travel to the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa, to open for a 10-month long exhibit starting in June.

As for Pash, this achievement represents another milestone in her career, which began and continues with the Cree School Board (CSB).

After being involved with writing the first CSB history textbook, she was asked to help with the cultural institute when it began, eventually becoming executive director.

Since September, Pash has taken on another role entirely, after being elected as the new chairperson for the CSB.

The Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Museums has been presented annually since 2011 to recognize an institution or individual that has made significant contributions to presenting and preserving Canadian history.

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