432. A Day with the First Nations with Video


Image Copyright ©2013 Lorena Ochoa

Image Copyright ©2013 Lorena Ochoa

Emmanuel Gallant writes: 
After living nearly two years in Canada, I finally took the time to
visit some of its very first inhabitants, the First Nations.

As a European, I felt duty-bound to learn about the colonization of
Canada from the Aboriginal point of view. Therefore, last month I
visited the Museum of Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford, and the
Six Nations Reserve of the Grand River in Ohsweken. 

If you are looking for a one-day trip out of Toronto and its busy
life, and if you are interested in learning about First Nations'
history, you simply can’t miss the Woodland Cultural Centre. It was
established in October 1972 under the direction of the Association of
Iroquois and Allied Indians upon the closure of the Mohawk Institute
Residential School. The Centre has seven departments, directed by a
bit more than 20 persons. The museum is one of the departments.

From the outside, the facility looks fairly small and simple, with no
major inscriptions, totem, or any First Nations symbols on the walls.
But inside, it is totally different. Two people welcome all visitors
in a very friendly way. The entrance is free of charge save for a food
donation for people in need. I find it pretty cheap considering all
the new things I am about to learn. After dropping a few cans and
cookies in the box, I head to the first room.
Copyright ©2013 Emmanuel Gallant

Copyright ©2013 Emmanuel Gallant

On this weekend, a First Nations Christmas Fair is taking place in the
lobby. Aboriginal people have displayed their own arts and crafts on
tables. I discover all kinds of paintings, wood sculptures, and
ceramics. Dream catchers and medicine wheels hang on Christmas trees.
I never thought we could use them this way. Some of the creations are
really impressive. They are the result of more than 40 hours of work each.
The table arrangements, the subdued lights, the spirit of Christmas,
and the warmth of the people give this room a very friendly

Finally I enter the museum. I am not a fan of guided tours. I prefer
to discover things for myself. Right away, what strikes me is the
richness of the installations: mannequins, texts, pictures, portraits,
tools, advertisements, miniature models, First Nations arts, and
others. I expected to find a lot of information, but I did not think it
would be so entertaining. From ancient times to the 21th century,
visitors are literally propelled here into a maelstrom of First
Nations’ history.
Copyright ©2013 Emmanuel Gallant

Copyright ©2013 Emmanuel Gallant

I understand how relatively simple life used to be for all the
Aboriginal people before the arrival of Europeans. The further I
progressed into the museum, the more I could feel the transformation
generated by my ancestors on these populations. A first change came
with the establishment of trade with the foreigners and then with the
introduction of Catholicism in every First Nations community. Finally
there's the involvement of the First Nations in the different wars
between France and England. I can feel the pain of these people who
were thus uprooted and who were paid a pittance for their hard work as
they moved from independence to economic dependence.
Copyright ©2013 Lorena Ochoa

Copyright ©2013 Lorena Ochoa

These important changes strongly impacted the image of First Nations
people. The exhibits showed how outsiders used popular media in
different ways and thus misrepresented these people. It is especially
striking during the 20th century where Aboriginals were used for
commercials in order to bring exoticism to products. When I think of
all these events that these people had to face, I must admit
I understand their anger, and also their confusion.

I also feel this confusion when I am driving through the Six Nations
Reserve of the Grand River a few hours later. What strikes me the most
is the contradiction between the messages written on some big boards
located at the entrance of the reserve and what we find inside the
reserve. Indeed, on the side of the road, big inscriptions highlight
the importance of a healthy life: don’t smoke, be healthy, and others.
But inside the reserve, I see mainly smoke shops and a casino, a bit

This strange combination makes me think of what I previously read at
the museum about the economic control put in place by the Government
and I wonder to which extent it is still present.

At some point I decide to stop at a healing centre where I meet Gail
who kindly tells me a bit more about the First Nations. I understand
that despite the pain generated by the colonization, it has at least
gathered the different First Nations together to act for their rights.
I am very surprised when she tells me that actually First Nations
people are not Canadians. They have a different status with their own
government. They elect their Chiefs who will be members of the
assembly. They elect a National Chief.
Gail. Copyright ©2013 Emmanuel Gallant

Gail. Copyright ©2013 Emmanuel Gallant

The dawn is coming when I finally leave the reserve. I learnt a lot
during this visit. I really think it is necessary for any Canadian
citizen to visit the First Nations at some point in order to
understand deeper the country they are living in. I already knew most
of my ancestors' history. I understand better now how deep they
went in changing First Nations’ beliefs and imposing their domination
and this idea of dependence. As regards to the First
Nations, I felt a very strong pride, and also the necessary desire for
a population which has slowly been torn apart for decades to express
its need of recognition. I am glad I got to learn more about this
ancient culture and its wise traditions and really look forward to my
next visit.

See Video: http://youtu.be/vBq-n3ZbftA


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