Legacy Story Overview

Woodland Cultural Centre

Origins

Woodland Cultural Centre (WCC) is a non-profit heritage organization and cultural facility based in Six Nations of the Grand River, Ontario, dedicated to preserving and promoting Indigenous history, art, language, and culture. 

Following the closing of the Mohawk Institute residential school in 1970, the elected Six Nations council commissioned a feasibility study for WCC in July 1971. Eight of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians (AIAI) member bands supported this study in November 1971. The former Mohawk Institute’s transformation into a cultural centre was planned by the AIAI. This action reflected the community's need for language and culture to be preserved, and for curriculum to be developed so that Indigenous students received education to strengthen their cultural knowledge. Only a small percentage of the Six Nations community retained knowledge of Indigenous languages, such as Mohawk and Cayuga. As a result, the preservation of language was a core part of how WCC would support the community. Construction officially began in January 1972, and the renovations to the gymnasium to become the museum were done in 1973.

From 1982 to 2004, WCC’s museum was headed by Tom Hill as Museum Director. Tom is a prolific member of WCC to note, particularly for his work in guiding WCC’s programming, permanent and temporary exhibitions, and collaborations to bring Indigenous artwork and history to the public.

Woodland Cultural Centre today

The Woodland Cultural Centre (WCC) includes an interactive museum and gallery, an Indigenous library and language resource centre, several office spaces, as well as the former Mohawk Institute residential school building on site.

Capital project plans are in place to completely renovate the WCC to become an Interpretive Centre. These renovations will re-imagine the space for new educational initiatives focused on the history of residential schools in Canada, accounts from the Survivors, and the impact of residential schools on the community. This work is part of the Save the Evidence Campaign, which began in 2015.
 

Legacy Story Circle

On Thursday, July 22, 2021, 10 individuals came together in circle (both in-person and over Zoom) to speak to the history and goals of WCC as an organization and space. Members of the Legacy Story Circle were staff and guests of WCC, and the conversation took place in their orientation room, attached to the museum. 

What Woodland Cultural Centre offers to the community 

WCC’s role in the community of Six Nations is to preserve the cultural identity of the community. This is reflected in their detailed archives on language and culture, the museum centred around First Peoples’ history, a gallery featuring work from local Indigenous artists, and their arts-based programming. The museum features galleries showcasing the artwork of local Indigenous artists such as Tom Hill and Stan Hill.

In recent years, WCC also developed a virtual tour of the former Mohawk Institute for wider public access, to provide an educational experience on the history of the building. Live virtual tours are also regularly scheduled.

WCC also partners with many organizations and artists such as Santee Smith, Founder of Kaha:wi Dance Theatre. In the Legacy Story Circle, Santee spoke about several projects through which she collaborated with WCC, such as Continuance: this was a performative dance piece where 3D-mapped images and video portraying cultural strength, beauty, and Hodinosho:ni images were projected onto the former Mohawk Institute. Dancers performed in front of the building to sounds and music, illuminating that the traumatic history of the former Mohawk Institute did not erase cultural identity. 

Vision for the future

At the time of the Legacy Story, staff shared their vision for WCC. Visions of the future were focused around the current capital project, future programming, and making changes to the museum in the near future.

Re-interpreting the former Mohawk Institute 

The transformation of the former Mohawk Institute into an Interpretive Centre and educational resource space is scheduled for completion in Fall 2024. In the Legacy Story Circle, Executive Director Janis Monture provided an overview of the plans:

The boys’ side of the first floor, the teacher’s living quarters on the second floor, and the girls’ side to the centre block in the basement of the residential school will be interpreted with a focus on education, history, and language. WCC has a library archive in the basement of the former Mohawk Institute building, which will remain part of WCC. 

WCC and its museum may be relocated to a new facility to expand exhibition and programming space, with interactive and tactile learning components. 

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An image from the Save the Evidence campaign.

Future programs

The Legacy Story Circle offered insight into further developing WCC’s digital programming, as well as regularly monitoring opportunities for safe in-person programming throughout COVID-19. With growing numbers of cases in Six Nations and surrounding communities, WCC was forced to pivot its programming to be more digitally focused. At the time of the conversation, plans were in place to host an upcoming virtual talk with Tom Hill.

The Legacy Story Circle spoke to future program development that can best support the capacity of WCC staff and the Six Nations community: for example, staff are considering the option of offering more seasonally-based programs to ensure that space and time is given for staff and community to break between events. 

Offering more digital programs has allowed WCC to grow exponentially, especially to audiences overseas. While this is positive news, the Circle felt that meeting the demand for more performances, art, and education can ask much of an already small staff at WCC. Future visioning includes increased staffing to increase capacity and better support communities worldwide.

Museum development 

Patricia Deadman led a tour of the museum following the Legacy Story conversation, where she identified limitations of the current space and shared plans to develop it further. 

There have been few changes to the museum since it opened, and there is a need for new developments in the space. One initiative that will be added to the museum soon is the integration of language panels for WCC’s Thanksgiving Address in Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Seneca, and Tuscarora throughout the museum. Patricia identified that there is a need for new lighting tracks in the space, higher ceilings, data ports and outlets in the floor, and wider doors to transport artwork. For larger exhibits, Patricia identified that a loading dock would be beneficial to add to the Museum for easier transport of these large items.

Resources