Woodland Cultural Centre Legacy Story
As part of the Indigenous Creative Spaces Project, a series of conversations around the Legacy Stories of Indigenous creative spaces in Ontario took place from September 2020 to January 2022. Guided by an Indigenous Advisory Circle and Co-Conveners, and supported by ArtsBuild Ontario (ABO), the project aims to build a knowledge base for Indigenous artists, communities, and the Ontario arts sector on what is needed to foster the development of Indigenous creative spaces.
Legacy Stories are an opportunity for Indigenous-led creative and cultural spaces to tell the story of their space. The Indigenous Advisory Circle, Co-Conveners, and ABO collaboratively developed questions to more broadly support the breadth of each space’s story. This conversation took place on Thursday, July 22, 2021, to tell the story of Woodland Cultural Centre (WCC), highlighting their history and future, as part of the Indigenous Creative Spaces Project. WCC is based in Six Nations of the Grand River. We would like to extend our thanks to Kaya Hill for editing and transcribing the conversation.
Circle participants included:
Janis Monture (joined via Zoom), Executive Director, Woodland Cultural Centre)
Layla Black, Marketing and Programming Supervisor (Woodland Cultural Centre)
Tara Froman, Collections Registrar (Woodland Cultural Centre)
Santee Smith, Artistic Director (Kaha:wi Dance Theatre)
Patricia Deadman, Curator (Woodland Cultural Centre)
Kanehtawaks Lefort-Cummings, Guest (presented Thanksgiving Address to open the circle)
JP Longboat, Founder (Circadia Indigena)
Terri-Lynn Brennan, CEO (Inclusive Voices Inc.)
Alex Glass, Executive Director (ArtsBuild Ontario)
Amy Poole, Program Manager (ArtsBuild Ontario)
The conversation was framed very generally around the following questions in regards to WCC:
Where have we come from?
Where are we now?
Where are we going?
How will we know when we get there?
Kanehtawaks Lefort-Cummings offers an opening in Mohawk known as the Thanksgiving Address, giving thanks and opening the circle.
JP: The first question that we talk about is: where did you come from? Who has been here the longest?
Tara: I've been here the longest of the people in the room.
JP: Every part of the organization is essential. What you do here is totally essential to the story of WCC. We're not looking to hear something [specific to capture information]. Just tell your story from where you are, and your experience of WCC.
Tara: I read the [first] feasibility study that developed the Cultural Centre [1971 to 1991]. I worked with Dr. Susan Hill on a presentation she gave on the founding of the Centre [where we analyzed the feasibility study]. I'm pretty well-versed on why it was created, [and] why it was created is very far from what it is now.
The Woodland Cultural Centre 1971 feasibility study: Following the closing of the Mohawk Institute in 1969, the elected Six Nations council commissioned the original feasibility study for the WCC in July 1971. Eight of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians (AIAI) member bands heavily supported this study in November 1971. The AIAI became heavily involved in planning for the conversion of the Mohawk Institute into a cultural educational centre. This action reflected the community need for Native students to receive quality education through positive curriculum, enhancing students’ cultural identity. Construction officially began in January 1972, and WCC officially opened on October 6, 1972. The renovations to the gymnasium to become the museum were done in 1973. This major renovation to the former Mohawk Institute featured four departments: audio/visual, museum, library, and publications.
The feasibility study proposed that two members of each AIAI band council composed the Board of Governors for the space. In this capacity, representatives both oversaw the initial work in the 70s and the management of WCC, with the Executive Director reporting to the Board. The main objectives of the work, as outlined in the 1971 feasibility study, included the following:
Offer facilities for public display, research, meetings, production, and packaging of resources, and public acquisition of authentic handicrafts.
Preservation and promotion of the First Nations of the eastern Woodland’s cultural heritage.
Collect and store cultural resources and materials.
Make the activities of WCC public.
Ensure that staff of WCC have the framework to carry out all above-mentioned activities.
Tara: The feasibility study was done by Thomas (Tom) Hill.
Tom Hill: Known as Canada’s first Indigenous Curator, Tom was the Museum Director of WCC from 1982 – 2004.
Tara: The feasibility study was to basically get in with the funding that the Canadian government was providing on cultural, educational spaces for First Nations – of course, Indians at the time. It was to build a cultural centre with culture [and] community at its root: it was more for the community. It wasn't to present us to others, it was us for us.
Funding bodies: During this time, accessible funding bodies for WCC included the Department of Indian Affairs and the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians.
Tara: From that, there were all these little programs and branches that developed out of it. They had an audio-visual program where they wanted to be recording people, knowledge, [and] cultural things that they weren't so much scared that they were losing, but that they wanted to preserve as a repository for the future in terms of being able to consult [and ask things like,] “is this the way we've always done it? Is this the wording that we use? Is this the best way to do it?” In a sense, the idea that culture isn't static was in their mind. They had a museum branch where they wanted to gather historic and prehistoric pieces, but interpret it from our point of view rather than behind glass [where you] look at it. They had the language program, although that developed later out of the feasibility study from the audio-visual department in terms of specifically with the support communities, of which we now have only three Hodinohsho:ni [communities]. We started out with Anishinaabe ones, [and we had] way more Hodinohsho:ni ones. There weren’t a lot of Native authors [known] at the time, so the library was developed just to gather what was being written about us. It was, as I said, us for us.
Tar: [The feasibility] study was [done in] 1971, I believe. Both [of the buildings] were here before: these two buildings were the former residential school. This [building] was [part of] the school, and [Tara points behind her] that was the dorm. This room didn't exist: it was repurposed. The feasibility study [came about] because we owned the buildings. [We thought,] ‘what do we do with [them]?’
Building ownership: The Six Nations of the Grand River Elected Council owned the property and two buildings on site. The Six Nations Council requested the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians to undertake and operate such a cultural centre program until a permanent body was established.
Feasibility study, report, and construction: In May of 1971, the Six Nations Council requested the loan of Tom Hill for two months from the Department of Indian Affairs to undertake a feasibility study of the Mohawk Institute. In consultation with the Lands Committee of the Six Nations Council. It was decided to create a cultural centre. The proposal was made by Thomas Hill in July 1971. Keith Lickers, [WCC’s first Executive Director] was additionally hired to continue the development of an Indian cultural centre, and a preliminary report was made in March 1972 to the Six Nations Council. Not much construction was suggested for WCC, except for the museum/gallery building where the organization would retrofit the classrooms into offices and the gymnasium into a museum.
An image of the former Mohawk Institute residential school.
Layla: The school closed in 1970, and then it was given back to us to go through those studies to turn it into the space we saw.
JP: So, it was a movement right away? Once it came back, there was a movement, [and] the feasibility study started to happen?
Tara: Yes, although the Mohawk Chapel still felt a lot of personal ownership of the space and would just show up every day.
Risks and challenges to developing Woodland Cultural Centre: In addition to the Mohawk Chapel’s feelings of personal ownership of the school, additional risks and challenges for the project included financing, collection of cultural artifacts, and training Indigenous personnel.
JP: They were still around?
Tara: Yes, we used to live in Amos [Key’s] house! I was negative-one [years old] when this happened.
Tara: These are stories I’ve heard. From what they were saying, I would say it was well into the 70s that the place had opened.
JP: As you say, you started developing audio-visual [materials]. Is all of that material available for people in the community to come and look at, to come and view?
Tara: Yes and no. Language is [available to the community], but it's tightly controlled because of what was recorded. Once the money went away [in 1986], there just wasn't the staffing and there wasn't the ability to keep up with the technology. We are sitting on reel-to-reel [footage]: I've seen 8tracks, [and] I’ve seen records [in our collection].
A long-term plan: Outside of the Legacy Story conversation, Janis Monture addressed the question of financial loss that Tara mentioned, noting: “in 1986, the Board of Governors decided to implement its long-term plan to upgrade and increase the physical plant and secured funding to add on a large orientation room. Although at this time it was also apparent financial restrictions were beginning to hamper program development and delivery.”
Layla: We currently have a project in place where we're digitizing all of that older-style content, and access protocols [just for language] have been created because of the sensitive nature of the recorded materials for people to access that. It's in the works of bringing it up to the times, but it's a very big project.
JP: You talked about an educational component...
Tara: ‘Preserve, promote, and educate;’ that was our mandate. [As the years went on,] the support communities started building their own, [so they did not invest in us as much]. They took their cultural dollars back to their communities. The amount [of money we received] went further in the 70s. Expectations were built, but expectations with 100 people are very different expectations with ten people.
Funding in the present day: Outside of the Legacy Story conversation, Janis Monture addressed a question of funding sources accessed by WCC: “WCC typically receives around $609,620 from the Cultural Education Centre Program Fund – Indigenous Services Canada (used to be Dept. of Indian Affairs). We also receive operating dollars from Canada Council for the Arts (in which we received a huge increase in 2018 from $16,000/year to $85,000/year; operating from Ontario Arts Council $60,000/year and $28,420/year from the Community Museum Operating Grant). The rest of the funding is project-based and we typically sit at a budget of $1.2 million to $1.7 million a year.”
Tara: Language, like I said, came later. It was a shoot-out of audio-visual because that was the community saying, “five percent of us know the language.” We started out with Mohawk, [and so] Mohawk, Cayuga, and Ojibwe were the three that they really focused on. Then, because there are more Mohawk communities [and] it's much more prevalently spoken, the focus really became much more Cayuga [focused] because this is the only place in the world that Cayuga is spoken. They intensely started recording and collecting Cayuga.
[I’ve been here since the 80s] as a summer student. I started out in museum education as a Summer Student Cultural Interpreter, and I kept coming back in the summer. Well, my personal story is I came here in grade three and it had been open for a few years. This room wasn't even built, [and] they didn't have a gift shop.
[What was set up at the time was the museum,] but it was very European. [There would be] an exhibit on lacrosse [in a] case, an exhibit on weapons, [in a] case, [and] an exhibit on clothing [in a] case. It struck me, and I just knew that I had to come back; so, as a summer student, I thought I'd get it out of my blood early. I came back and then started full-time. I was the Assistant to the Education Manager. She left and I had a change in title. I took over [the] education [department]. Then when one of the Collections Managers left, I changed titles, and [Judy Harris, former Museum Registrar, and Assistant Curator] had really mentored me. She retired because she felt I could do this, or even though I wasn’t in the spot, I would make sure that the person who got the spot would do it the way she wanted it done or [how it was] supposed to be done. Then, I moved into collections. [Now, the] education [department] is trying to drag me back, but I’m not letting them.
JP: [Do you have] pieces put away, like collections that we don't see?
JP: What are the other departments today? Education, collections...?
Tara: Museum [too], but collections is under [the] museum [department].
Layla: Library, archives...
Tara: We're putting archives back in collections. It was in [the] library, but it can't really be circulated.
JP: You say [that WCC and the museum] started out very Western [too]. Has it evolved, and are you consciously trying to evolve it into an Indigenous practice?
Tara: It's actually going further Western, I think. It's not us for us anymore. It's us for them.
Alex: When did that happen? When did you see that turn?
Tara: Well, I was very young. I think when the money left, they had to find a way to make money. The people with the money were not us. I think there's a huge divide between the community and the WCC with the exception of language. The language program is still working very closely with the community. [For] the rest of the work, we've fallen away from culture. That's been a struggle with defining ourselves. Are we a cultural centre? Are we a museum? Are we an art gallery? What are we?
Janis: I think Tara did a good job covering a lot of the changes that happened. I think there was a point probably in the late 80’s and early 90’s when a lot of the First Nations left, and then there was a huge cut to our various operating funds where we had to sort of make those [changes.]
Addressing cuts to operating funding: Outside of the Legacy Story conversation, Janis Monture shared the following information around addressing cuts to various operating funds: “we had to restructure positions and diversify our funding sources – there was more emphasis on self-generated revenue and donations.”
Janis: That's where we started to see more sort of project-based funding start to lead the organization in regards to what was being programmed. Then, there were other things that were happening externally as well that were impacting what was going on internally. Six years ago, when they started the Save the Evidence Campaign that focused on the residential school, it became sort of the front of what WCC was.
An image of the Save the Evidence campaign
Restoring and re-interpreting the former Mohawk Institute: Save the Evidence is a campaign to support the restoration of the former Mohawk Institute, as well as its reimagining as an Interpretive Centre. In 2013, the roofing and foundations of the former Mohawk Institute were in dire need of repair, and the campaign was undertaken to first address these repairs and soon transform it into an educational space. To allow time for the funds to be raised and the work completed, Save the Evidence was divided into four Phases: Phase 1 covered the main roofing structure of the main dormitory and dining hall, and the total cost was $1.2 million. Phase 2 primarily looked at HVAC, electrical, window repairs, interior finishes, and more. This was completed at a cost of $10 million. Phase 3 continued mechanical upgrades to the building which included replacing heritage windows and brick masonry, and Phase 4 will be dedicated to the Interpretation part of transforming the space. Outside of the Legacy Story, Janis Monture shared the following information around the costs involved in each Phase: “the total cost for Phase 3 was $10 million; Phase 4 will cost $1 million.”
Janis: People actually started calling us the Mohawk Institute residential school again, which wasn't actually what we were. I think it was very confusing for a lot of people, probably more so for the team to try to understand what was happening [and] what was the mandate of the organization at that time. I think that that sometimes happens when you take on a larger capital campaign, and it just sort of muddied up the mandate a bit. Since COVID, our focus as a cultural centre is starting to come back around again because a lot of the work that I want to focus on now is language and culture. The mandate for the organization is to increase what we do by 50% in language and culture, and I think that because we were pretty much closed to the public for [eight or] nine months last year, it really made us sort of focus internally on what we had to develop, how we were going to develop and what WCC was going to be. [That’s] not to say that the arts or the museum or [the] education [department] don't play a huge role in that. Look [through] that lens of what we are doing and what our mandate is: there's been a lot of work in research, there's also been a lot of work in programming, looking at language and culture more so. As we enter our 50th anniversary next year, it's going to really highlight those accomplishments over the last fifty years that WCC has done, but also looking forward to the next 50 years.
Language and culture: Outside of the Legacy Story conversation, Janis Monture spoke further to the priority of WCC: “it is still a huge priority as our mission for the organization is that every Hodinohsho:ni person will be able to speak their language and practice their culture. With COVID, many language programs and courses were moved to zoom and online. It is harder to retain the language that way. However, many of the programs are using hybrid models. Also, with COVID, a lot of community members want to get back to their traditions so we are developing a cycle of ceremonies workshops throughout the 2022 year. Partnering with other community organizations is key for the sustainability of our language and culture. The more people have access, the better.”
Amy: [With the] focus going [more] into culture and the language program, what does WCC need as you’re moving forward [to accomplish this]? Do you have needs that aren’t being met?
Janis: Yeah. I think our biggest issue has been that… when I left, there was a huge [organizational] shift that happened and it literally got to a point where the language department actually became no longer a department. It was whittled down to a part-time position, I think. There were a lot of changes organizationally that have happened, [and] now I’m trying to rebuild language to be an actual department again. [We’re also trying to] build facilities for those that require space for recording. There’s a recording studio now that’s been installed. Also, providing the community access so that people can come in and out, listen, and sit down, and listen to recordings or do translations [is very important]. The building you guys are in now is also something I’m looking at [doing some work on], possibly a new build, because the space was retrofitted [in the 80’s]. It was [originally] classrooms in a gymnasium with these three areas that were added on. It was never really a space to be a museum and gallery, or a space to have people gather, really, because even the space you guys are in only seats 125 people, theatre-style. When we have community events, it’s not enough space. Really, what I'm looking forward [to] is looking at the creation of a new building for not just the museum and gallery, but for the WCC as a whole, to be more of an inclusive space.
JP: Can you speak a little bit to the development organizationally with the feasibility study? Has there always been a Board, relationships with Wah:ta and Tyendinaga, and trying to figure all those kinds of things?
Janis: The feasibility study in the beginning [was] for the building. Business plans over the years and our most recent strategic plan really highlighted that requirement to have a stronger governance structure [and] stronger operational structure, because that has sort of gone sideways in the past few years.
The governance of Woodland Cultural Centre: Outside of the Legacy Story conversation, Janis Monture shared the following comments to speak further to the governance of the space: “there are more issues around governance than business planning, in comparison, for WCC. Governance has been an issue in past years, but new Board members are strengthening the governance of the space.”
Janis: To rebuild those structures in place, but also to ensure that learning was still at the [forefront was crucial]… because it was cultural education and it was actually in our original name. [We were originally known as] the Woodland Indian Cultural Education Centre. The lifelong learning process has become another sort of thing that's at the forefront. Language and culture are at the forefront [of our work] and [it’s our job to] ensure that our programming meets those two priorities: that's just how you tie back to it. It is within our mandate. The residential school is in our mandate: it's one of the last points because it will be part of our narrative. It's not the priority of our narrative, but as the school reopens to the public in a couple of years… I hope the way in which it's intertwined into WCC is [strategic]. We always toured the [residential school] space before, even when it wasn't renovated: it was just our space. It was a space that we would just use as part one of our tours we offered, [and] that will still continue to be the case. It might be the entry point for a lot of people coming to our site. Again, like I said, just going back to the language and culture piece for our communities is now the main priority again.
Tara: It puts it in context, too, right? You can't really know how bad it was for the community: not every child who came here was killed or abused. Every child in here lost their culture. That's the horror: the true community horror of it is that cultural loss. You need to know what we have to understand what we lost, or could have lost. I've always said [that] the residential school isn’t our culture: it's something that happened to [our culture], [and it’s] not a part of it.
Janis: Yeah, so that's the other thing which is really important for people to understand: they can't necessarily just come to our site and take a tour of the school without understanding the bigger picture. [This] is why it is going to be an offering of something that we already do.
JP: How are you transforming the [residential school] space?
Tara: Walls, and no lead paint or asbestos!
Janis: The third floor will continue to be a community creative space. It could just be a community space, but it is more or less a community space on the third floor that is not going to be part of the interpretation plan.
Tara: It looks nothing like the school. I think it looks like a Swiss chalet, like an actual ski lodge. I just see the moose head here and I feel completely comfortable speaking.
Janis: The second floor, the boys’ side, will remain language[-oriented] and some of our offices will remain in the space.
Tara: For you guys looking at it, that's the left-hand side.
Janis: The interpretation part of the second floor will be where the teacher's living quarters are. The first floor, the boys’ side, will be interpreted, but the girl's side will remain our space with the library. Then, the basement will be interpreted from the boys’ side to the center block to the dining hall, but the girls’ side will remain our space because that's where the library archive is now living. WCC will still have a huge stakeholder placed in the building, and the reason I chose to keep [the] language [department] over there and the reason I'm choosing to keep [the] education [department] over there is purposeful. Language [is the focus here] because that building really didn't want us to speak our language. For me, it's very purposeful that the language department stays in that building because I want those walls to hear our language and I want the revitalization of our languages to be there and to continuously be heard all the time. Education used to be over in that space, although it's going to look very different. They are going to be situated mostly on the first floor. That's also purposeful because I need them to connect between two buildings.
I think what happened before was when they were just situated in the museum building, it became very museum-centric. I want them to talk about the space as a whole and to really have that tie between language and education. Education is going to have to understand the language and culture to properly interpret our space. That's why [you’ll see that merge with] education and language working closer together as we move down the road. That’s very purposeful [as to] why they're in that space. … We needed the space [for the library]; that's why it’s there. It's also [there] because it's a space to keep our knowledge [and] for people to go there to seek out knowledge when, again, it was a space that purposely tried to take away our culture from us. That's really important why certain things are going to stay in that building.
Amy: What's the timeline [or] trajectory of that work for the school?
Janis: Well, my end goal is by late Fall 2024 to reopen to the public.
[In terms of organizational leadership,] we have a Board of Directors who are the governance structure. They are not administrative, although they were that way before I came back. They're now more of a policy [and] governance-driven Board. On the Board of Directors, there are up to three members from three of the support First Nations. [There’s] a total of nine with a Chairperson, so [there are] 10 [members]. Currently, we have five Board members which is low for us. Typically, we have around seven. From the Board of Directors, Advisory Committees can be established and we do have a couple of Advisory Committees. Just so everyone is aware, there is going to be a Language Advisory Committee and then there's going to be a Capital Fundraising Committee. Those are the two Advisory Committees that are coming to make recommendations to the Board of Directors. Both of those Advisory Committees are being established actually for this current year.
Tara: When we had more support communities, they too were given the two spots [designated for each community]. There used to be 20 Board members.
JP: [Has] your staff been in flux over the years?
Janis: The full-time core component has been around 13 to 14 full-time team members in a given year, [but] it fluctuates depending on projects. We usually have contracts for those specific projects. The goal is to enhance certain areas in the next five years [to grow the organization a bit] in certain areas like language and culture: [those are] huge ones. Then of course, how language and culture grow will then, in essence, affect the education team and programming team.
JP: In the story so far, there [has been] a mention of a shift from ‘us for us’ to ‘us for them’, which is big. Was that connected to funding?
Tara: Funding, but also the community could do it better than us. They had access, they had the funds to do it better. I'm thinking [of] the Language School. I want to go back to school to go to Gawení:yo, [a private Mohawk and Cayuga language immersion school on Six Nations].
Janis: I think a lot of what we do is still driven a lot by the funding that we receive. In saying that, I think the goal is to diversify our funding model, to get away from government grants, as a large percentage of what makes up our funding, to maybe not quite a 50/50 split, but at least a 60/40 split where those funds that we receive through a diversified funding model then allow us to actually carry out the work we want to do. [It wouldn’t be] dictated by funding contribution agreements and grants.
Terri-Lynn: How has the support for the ebb and flow and the expansion of the space been felt? Now you’ve got arts, you’ve got archives, you’ve got the library, [and] the museum. Has that expansion and growth been well-received and enthusiastically approached by the community?
Tara: I was too young when a lot of these things developed to be able to say “the community loved it.” Now, [we’ll have community events where] Santee [Smith] comes and dances [and] we’re pulling office chairs in, so people will sit. I know she will fill the room. Our community wants to see us. We had a dance performer from Los Angeles [come into the space too]. I wasn’t here, but apparently, she did a wonderful job because the lighting guy was telling me, “oh, yeah, I wish more people had seen that. It was a really great show, [and] very mesmerizing.” I know that our community wants to see us; they always want to see us. We did a World War One [performance] where we [were] honoring our ancestors. We had people from every one of the support communities [here like] Wah:ta [in] Muskoka. They came for the night to see that.
They very much tell us their support by whether they show up or not. It's just listening to what they're saying. You're having success with Tom Hill[‘s works] because they know who he is. They go to Tim Hortons and there he is, driving with the trunk of his car open! It's very much standing and observing.
Santee: I can add something here. I have a long history of being here as well, as a child; in the 70s, I was here, not as a performer, but I was involved with my parents coming here. They had arts and crafts shows, [and] the Villages, [for Polish, Ukrainian, British, German, Italian and Indigenous peoples in the 1970s], were happening in the city of Brantford. One of the Village sites was this site. I remember as a child when I came here [that] it was exciting because you get to see people, and Sky Dancers were around. There was dancing and activity. There also was a palisade and a village. That [all came about from] project-based funding. I didn’t know that at the time, [of course]; I was five!
Santee: That was exciting just to be able to see that, [and also to see] all the local artists selling arts and crafts outside. The funny part about it is I do remember going inside the Mush Hole, [a term for the former Mohawk Institute residential school,] and at the time we were just running wild in there and I think it was a change room for the dancers. That's why we were over there. In that weird sense, knowing that it was the school but nobody actually [knew] the actual history of it, [people would] be like, “oh, the school was not good,” [yet] [they didn’t] really know that the devastation of it [was] so much. Of course, the next time I came around was more when I was starting my career as an artist and performer. Tom Hill is a very big supporter of mine. He gave me space to basically come and do what [I] need to do any time. [He would say,] “just let us know.” That really helped launch my career because a lot of my development work happened here, all the way from the mid-90s to... I think the last time I did creative work here was for Blood Tides and that was [in] 2017. I was [working] in Toronto and [having the space here] changed everything. I think one of the biggest [things that really benefited my work,] other than having a space to work locally instead of in Toronto... is that I would always do community showcases of the work [here as] a work in progress. We [Kaha:wi Dance Theatre] would work a little bit and then do a showcase, and that's the way a lot of people came out. Oh, we did the Mush Hole [performance], too.
Tara: [The Mush Hole performance called Continuance] was only last year, in 2020.
An image of the Continuance (2020) performance description.
Santee: Oh my God. I forgot about that! I wasn’t thinking of the Mush Hole on stage here. Oh, yeah, there was [also] the Mush Hole project with [McMaster] University [in 2018].
Tara: That's when we discovered we had asbestos and she wanted to continue!
Santee: [The] community feedback [and] connecting with the content [was deeply felt], depending upon the content of the work about the Mush Hole. I attended a lot of the Survivors Talk Series and was able to get connections and make connections to survivors, and actually have them collaborate and [give] feedback on my work.
Then, we [solicited] community feedback [because] that was what we wanted to hear. We made choices about changing scenes based on what we heard from the community. … From my perspective, it still serves [the] community, but it is also educational to others who aren't from the community. I feel like it does both: from my experience, it did. For example, when we did the Mush Hole staging performance on our own and it was open, so we had that question and answer [period] with the audience after. There were survivors in the audience, [and] their families… [it was] intergenerational. There [were] people from Brantford who knew about the school only because they drove by it, [and they] got to learn about it. There were these European tourist people [who said], “I thought there was a show, so we came!” and they didn’t know anything about it. They were just blown away; they didn't know any of that history. I feel like that's the strength, that you can hit so many different people. It's just a matter of really understanding. … How do you speak to these different people coming in? That's pretty much what we do through our performance is educate, especially with a certain type of performance. For a lot of time as an artist, I thought that it was not my role to be an educator like I'm doing with art. They can interpret how they want. [Time passed] and, well... now I am an educator. I guess I have to accept the fact that if I'm going to do a show about the Mush Hole, I'm educating. We embraced it more and if I'm doing a show that [is] coming from knowledge and the bodies of Ongwehon:we women, I’m educating. That's a part of it.
[In the mid-late 90s,] I was a part of Tom’s vision of having performances happening here. He produced dinner theatres, and those were always fun. [They] collected different [local] artists, and then [they had] some specialty hosts like Lorne Cardinal. [For me,] I feel like that was a bit of a miss because that didn't bring a lot of people in. I always felt there was this potential. It was a little bit stunted for marketing: how do you market certain things to [the] local community where they want to come in? I always feel there's this issue with marketing, getting the word out, and then having people invited in. I think that depends upon the programming. The dinner theatres seemed like it was a bit of a challenging time around Christmas, [because] there [were] lots of things going on. I feel like there's always a potential and sometimes it's not [a] hit. Where I see the amazing potential is Save the Evidence... because of the residential school legacy. I feel like the chance to be internationally recognized as an educational Holocaust museum is incredible. This also then means, yes, it would have to target outside people coming in constantly.
I was just thinking about, as you were mentioning, trying to separate the Mohawk Institute from operations in WCC or weaving them [into one another]. It reminded me of what Kaha:wi was trying to do when we started to do education [and] training [for dance]. [I said] “there's no Indigenous dance training institute in Canada, [and] there’s nothing for young potential performers in dance or performance.” We tried to fill that gap by doing our four-week training program, which ran for a little bit, but we didn't get a lot of support money-wise. Now we don’t do it anymore.
What else can I add about the WCC story?
JP: You have performed, trained, and danced in other spaces: how has the performance space here served your artistry? Or not?
Santee: Well, the number one thing was the community feedback part, as we are in development. As Janis mentioned though, this is not the ideal performance space.
Santee: This [gymnasium space] is similar to a black box. You could still use this, but it would have to be reconfigured. [You need specific] lighting, [and] you can’t do much tech here. It’s very old lighting. I think you can add some lights up there, and I think there [were] some sidelight stands there before.
Alex: Would you keep this configuration?
Santee: No. A triangle stage is not very good. There [are] no wings for entrances and exits, and we did dance on this floor, but it’s concrete underneath: [it’s very harsh on the ankles]. Over the years of dancing on concrete and craziness, it's challenging. Seating is challenging because sightlines are challenging.
Alex: Would you want the flexibility to shift the audience-performer experience?
Alex: Is that part of the [project] plan, [or is that specifically for the school, Janis?]
Janis: No, the plan to redo the space [where] the museum building is now, is to make it more of an inclusive programming space.
Santee: There are some spaces in a lot of the new art centres that are flexible, so it's just a big room and you can have a gala in there. You can bring out seating from the underpinning. You can bring down the sides and frame it, like the proscenium [stage]. A multipurpose room where you can do a bunch of things [is crucial]. … The [stage] that we performed [on] at the First Ontario Performing Arts [Centre], their Robertson Theatre [in St. Catharines] is huge. When the audience and the seats come out, it maybe [seats] 200 people.
On the other side of the venue, we did the honouring and we projected on the outside wall, and we really enjoyed that. That was very site-specific. We toured to different areas, and forts, and places like that. Then, we [also] 3-D mapped the facade of [WCC’s] museum in October of this past year, we danced on that circular stage out there. There is a specialty National Art Centre project called Grand Acts of Theatre. There is potential to remount that because so many people want to see it, including the survivors. Robbie Robertson was like, “can you have that just going on as a projection every day?” That’s expensive!
Santee: Those $40,000 camera projectors are expensive and you need two of them.
JP: Does the building inspire the work or are you just putting the work on the building?
Santee: Both. My history of working inside that building is working in the boys’ playroom, so being inside the building [is very inspiring]. My investment in that is very deep and expansive. My family went there. It's always a learning experience, a response, and [an] activation. It's not just, “oh, let's do a show and put it on,” it's obviously much deeper than that. The commitment to working with survivors has been ongoing.
The other thing that I was part of was the Ongwehon:we Festival: that was in… 2017? 2018?
Tara: We did it [for] two years. That first one was 2018.
Santee: The Ongwehon:we Festival was an outdoor festival with an outdoor stage. I don’t even remember what we did there. I have premiered work here. I premiered Blood, Water, Earth here, which has since gone international to New Zealand and across Canada.
JP: Did the presenters come here to do that?
Layla: I know they had international Indigenous performers.
Santee: Yeah, my experience is that it was for [the] community. It felt very community [oriented].
Tara: Yeah, that was her goal.
Santee: I liked the fact that it felt like home and that you were just seeing people locally celebrating music and crafts and things like that, and with family, which was nice.
Tara: I just remember cooking the whole time. She couldn't find any food vendors and she had to feed her artists, so she went to the barbecue and said, “Tara, stand there and cook.”
Santee: Anyway, I feel like there's a lot of potential in this place, especially not only locally, but for national recognition. WCC is very Ongwehon:we-led; how many women are in this organization? What does it mean to be an organization that is led by Ongwehon:we women? I feel it is different than a corporate colonial model. Also, looking at different models of how we operate, [and] what are our models? What is really interesting to me is looking at other models, not corporate models, that we would have looked to traditionally like natural law. We're looking at branching. We're looking at tessellation. We're looking at stacking. We're looking at annotation, [and] all of those natural ways that the world operates, spirals, [and] waves. For example, I had heard somebody talking about earlier expansion, and when we expanded… and then we had a decrease, and then we expanded and things shifted. Well, for me, I feel that's natural because nothing ever goes along a trajectory like this. Corporate modeling wants you to go growth, growth, growth, growth, capitalism, capitalism, capitalism. That is considered a success. I feel like we were on that trajectory: bigger, bigger, more money, bigger and [then the] building of an institute. You have some funding issues. I don't want to be in this trap. I want to do this. I want to ebb and flow.
Tara: As long as expectations ebb and flow too. The [fact that we’re international can be seen as a problem]. I'm like, “we have ten people! Quit putting more projects on us. You're not going to pay us more. You're just giving us more work.”
Santee: If it's part of your modeling, [and] if it was in your planning that says ‘our organization ebbs and flows and we're not following that trajectory,’ then it's explainable.
Layla: We have had some talks about taking a seasonal approach to programming and having that incorporated in so that we could have rest times when we are meant to rest, and work time when we're meant to work, and incorporating [this idea of the cycle and how things are different in the summer than they are in the winter in our education [events,] performances [and programming.] I could definitely attest to the fact that in our state right now, we are growing exponentially: our audience and our demand for culture, performances, art, and education. We are now getting requests from Sweden and Germany and all of these places around the world, [but] we are a very small staff. … We’re getting smaller, it feels like, by the day. There is that demand for what we have, but also that area of the inability to deliver it because of our funding, staff, our time, the overwhelm, and also because of these generational traumas that we're also managing at the same time as everyone else in this country and trying to be that source of knowledge, healing, support, [and] guidance to everyone. It does come back into who is able to take care of the women that are working here together to be able to rely on us, to be able to get us in that sisterhood and family atmosphere where we can go above and beyond the things that are written in our job description and do them? We see the vision, [and] we see the importance and the significance of the work we do here. That's why you show up on the weekends, and you’re in your emails at night, and... you're going those extra miles. I can definitely say our audience has [increased by] more than 50% in the last three months on all platforms, and the amount also creates a lot of pressure to deliver the information that people want.
… You feel that pressure! You're sold out of orange shirts again and you just get inundated on social media and you're like, “I’m sorry!” You feel a sense of responsibility because there are so many eyes looking at [you] right now.
Amy: [With] that trajectory of growth that you're going through right now, have there been any particularly strong barriers that you've overcome in the last few years? This can include during COVID, of course.
Layla: I definitely think we're taking on the digital barrier where we're doing our very best that we can to facilitate these huge demands for programming from 500 to 2000 people screening a tour at once, and trying to really focus on diversifying. At the moment, when we were stuck in this COVID world, all we had virtually was our tour of the building with the [former] Mohawk Institute. Being able to develop other digital resources and educational content that brings back that culture and language [is crucial]. For the last little while, all of our digital programming has been focused on the residential school. I think that has shifted our feelings, and we're almost sick of talking about it. We read about it and we have so much more here than just that school. That is a really significant story. It's huge right now. … When I saw donations coming in every second, I [felt that] our audience was growing and we have to take advantage of this trend or movement, but also take responsibility that these people are coming to us maybe for the first time not knowing what to do, making a $100.00 donation. It’s our responsibility here at WCC to make sure that it's not just a one-time, feel-good donation and that's it. It's a relationship that you're creating with us. Then, in our programming, having a way to show them where they have come from [is so needed]. We have been here all along, and [we are] bringing them back to that essence of who the Hodinohsho:ni are; less so much on the trauma and more on the resilience, the beauty, and the incredible lessons and wisdom in our culture.
Alex: In thinking about the building, the community, and the project that's happening now, the relationship [that] the community has to the building, what the building represents. How are you grappling with that pressure? What [are] the expectations of the community with the new build that's coming?
Layla: Yeah, I think that that's always in the back of our minds, especially as we create this site of conscience where people come to learn, and they come to a residential school. How do we make that more than just what they learn in the history, or walking through that school and seeing trauma? How do we make them leave with something more? I think that that's always in the back of our heads and how to balance that. In our minds, it is culturally focused. That is what we want you to leave with. What we want you to remember when you leave the WCC is the culture, is the art, is the beauty and the resilience… not the sadness, darkness, and, trauma.
Janis: My vision is that the space that will be created, [and] I doubt we will keep the building that you guys are currently sitting in. It will probably no longer be there once we start a new build. I think a lot of people look at that school and the building itself is very daunting. It looks very grandeur when you're driving up the laneway. The idea is that our new space will be more community-centric and take up not necessarily the same square footage, but it'll project that it takes up bigger space than what the school is. My vision is that the space will take up larger space, whether that's integrating the outdoors with the indoors. In the Fall , me and Patricia Deadman, [Curator at WCC,] were lucky to work with the Master of Architecture School at [the] University of Toronto: they came up with these prototypes of what our museum building perhaps may look like. One of the ones that was in my group when they presented… [he] said [that] when he looked at the space, he didn't want the school to take up space, so he purposely projected the building to be more grandeur than the school. … What we want people to take away is that our current space, the space that we use every day for programming, is going to be larger than the school.
Pat: I really can't speak to the history of WCC. I've been in this position [for] two years, [as of] next month. Seems like a whirlwind. I came to curating through the back door as [many] of our Curators have because we always started out as artists first. The epitome of art is becoming [a] Creative Director, advocator, writer, [or] performer [which has] influenced generations, literally, of artists. My association with WCC has been in and out as an artist over the years. I think it was called Indian Art, back in the late 80s. I finished school and I just wanted to make art. At the time, I never, ever aspired to be a Curator… so I started to build my artistic career visually. I got involved with other artists showing here. My learning curve into my own community was enormous because that started me on my journey. With the help of people like filmmakers, [and] photographers, I continued to make work and I've met many, many people over my career who have influenced my direction and my vision and have supported my artistic career.
For me as an artist, I understand [the] process. It doesn't matter what tool we use, whether it’s dance, theatre, film, [or] music. We’re all tugging at the same threads. I think that's the importance that we put towards this multidisciplinary programming.
As a student, I also understand that it's important to have these training opportunities. What do you need to know to become a Set Designer, a Director, a writer, [or] a gaffer? We should have those training opportunities. Again, as Santee says, a lot of that stuff does not exist. I'm not here to reinvent the wheel by any means. That's why community is so important… because there are experts in every field. Bringing those voices together to be able to have those next generations continue to be present and learning [is crucial]. I've seen it happen, being part[ly] involved with many first-time projects where I built a career in [the] mainstream. You talk about inclusion. Well, I’m that one Indian. [They could say], “therefore you must know everybody.” Oh, yeah, of course I do. *with sarcasm*
It's been very interesting to see how institutions, and specifically galleries, involve their programming whether it be through exhibitions, acquisitions, [or] policy change. All of that has been influenced by the work of people like Tom [Hill]. Before the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada) there was the Royal Commission in the 80s, the Museum Task Force, all of those recommendations… you can read [the same stuff] over and over again: it's really tiring. I think one of the reasons for [me] coming back home is the fact that everything is here at WCC: the language, the material culture, the history... everything is here! I think that's what inspires me: I [see] so much potential. To have language skills building, development, and hearing [the language]... it's incredible. Having different performances that are rooted within our material culture [is important]. [For example, you could ask,] ‘how does that little strawberry container influence Santee’s dance?’
All of these interconnections are so important because, in [the] mainstream, people can't even name the Six Nations. [We’ve] got to start somewhere. For a lot of people on the outside, it's a journey and it's hard. People are afraid to commit, too… [and] people have their own reasons why they want to become involved. I think what ties us together are those human values that come back [in our work], and [us] saying [that] it is a shared land, it's been a shared space, [and] we have a shared history. At some point, there has to be a balance and not everything is bad. [Of course,] not everything is good [either]: it's just [with] stepping back and seeing the forest, you can't get too particular about each and every tree. I see [people] taking that ownership, and even in the museum world we talk about developing policies for accessibility, and what is becoming sacred and sensitive. Who is entitled to have that access and how to do it correctly? Who is to take care of our collections? Right now, we have to go to Ottawa for conservation.
There's nothing stopping us from having our own conservation lab here and our classrooms to look after our own objects. I think that's part of that development for the future for the next few years.
[In terms of the strategic planning,] I think more has happened because we've had community support, especially with the development [of the] education [department and] the digital process. The resources are there, [and] our speakers are here. As for actual technical training [opportunities], I think that’s to be developed.
Layla: We do have a lot that we've already done, even just this year for tech, training-wise. We did a fully digital craft fair, teaching Indigenous artisans how to photograph their images or their jewelry, put it on Instagram, create a brand [and] a website. We have a four-part series for that. We also are working on another [series] for language, which is all about archiving [materials]. There [are] a lot of language and cultural centres that are in the same sort of situation where they have all these different media and they don't know what to do with them. They don't know how to organize [them], and they don't know how to have protocols in place. We've been developing [protocols] with our language department, and then we have a six-week course for other [cultural centres] in language archives to help them digitize, organize and protect their sacred recordings and content. We do have lots in the works that we're starting to create. I think COVID put everyone in a weird pause thinking, ‘what do we do?’ Now, wheels are starting to move back in motion, and [we are] putting this program out there in the digital age. There are so many of our artisans who just set up their email for that workshop and they're getting on their first Zoom [call] for that workshop. There's a large gap that we're trying to be of assistance in [filling] so we can show what we've done digitally and how we can help them do the same.
We've got quite a lot of feedback from other museums and galleries asking us, “could you show us?” [and,] “how are you guys selling out your tours every month? How are you doing this?”
In speaking to [the value of] that new digital age... as a generational survivor of the school, I was never taught my culture. I started working here two and a half years ago, and I didn't really know anything about residential schools or whatever was taught in them. My family never spoke about it. I barely even knew anything about my own culture and what it meant. I just knew that I was. Working here, I know that I have opened a whole side of my knowing, and learning, and connection in just exposing myself to Elders and storytellers, art leaders, change-makers, and filmmakers... just so many things that have expanded who I am as an Indigenous person because of being here. I know that there's this whole world [where] more than 90% of Indigenous people live off-reserve or are in some way disconnected from their culture. Having a place where you can go, where you can ask questions, where you can learn and experience and meet performers and hear their stories and read books... that is so vital for our next generations to make this journey back to understanding who they are, and where they came from. This, to me, is one of the most important places in the country for so many different people, [including] non-Indigenous people. We are getting a lot of people that want to learn. They want to grow. They want to expand what they know, and how they see their country, which is amazing. Also, those different realms of people in different places [shows us that] there's a space for everyone here. I think that that's really what I love about it, and what makes it all worth it. All of the stress or worrying about all the pressure, all the things that we talked about… [it’s all worth it.] That's one of the things that I've learned is, like Pat said, see the forest; see those next steps in place and what we're doing today and how it's going to make an impact later.
Museum tour with Patricia Deadman
An image of hand-carved wooden artifacts in Woodland Culture Centre’s museum.
Participants present on this tour included:
Patricia Deadman, Curator (Woodland Cultural Centre)
JP Longboat, Founder (Circadia Indigena)
Terri-Lynn Brennan, CEO (Inclusive Voices Inc.)
Alex Glass, Executive Director (ArtsBuild Ontario)
Amy Poole, Program Manager (ArtsBuild Ontario)
After the initial circle had finished with a meal, Kanehtawaks Lefort-Cummings concluded the gathering with a closing speech, concluding with the Thanksgiving Address. Patricia Deadman then led Co-Conveners and ABO through a tour of the WCC museum and gallery building, beginning in the gymnasium room they started in.
Pat: As Santee said, this is our orientation room. We have everything happening here and moving forward. Of course, our plan is to have a full-scale theatre because we do film screenings here, as well [as theatre shows,] meetings, and [a] lot of community events. So, we can see this as being a very transitional community space, and ideally, I would really love to see an ampitheatre [here]. We have lots of room [here] to accommodate that. It’s so pivotal to be able to gather in a space: that’s how I would want to transform the space. Even to be able to have the technology, to bring it up to industry standards [is vital, and] we’ll get there. It’s part of the multidisciplinary programming that we do here, [which is] very much grounded in dance [and the arts in general]. Santee’s work is very site-specific, especially with her last Continuance project. We have a lot of vision for this space, but right now it serves our community: we adapt and overcome. Before COVID, we would have a Coffee House overnight, so we would invite musicians and welcome poetry readings, all that sort of thing. Established artists could come as well as emerging community members, [so they] had that interaction. Interactions like that just [brought] people together to share ideas.
Alex: It sounds like a lot of the work is the impetus for public space, to see how it is going to be used and how it caters to the community in your use of the space.
Pat: Yeah, absolutely. Everything can be in transition so that it is an adaptable space. … It would be great to have even classrooms for that matter, to develop those ideas and [learn about] set design. … All of that is part of the industry, which is what I’d love to incorporate. That’s kind of how I envision the facility as well: [there are] all these other options that come with collection management. You mentioned conservation before, and like I said, we have to take everything to Ottawa for Parks Canada. Again, there [are] protocols associated with a lot of our objects. For having two of the facilities [here], it’s amazing. Having our Indigenous staff working here and not having to go [for a day and] drive [elsewhere] and get things transported [is great]. Especially in the Lower Lakes region: there are collections that need to be addressed, especially in the smaller rural communities… [like] smaller galleries for example. They have a lot of work [to do] but they don’t have funds or the knowledge to be able to carry that conservation work on.
Back in the 80s… I think a lot of discussions were initiated around that in Canada. I think maybe we received one of the leading [items]... at least that it would be a starting point to follow protocols and have those open discussions and I think that needs to be done here. It’s slowly coming, but there’s much to do.
That’s a big discussion and I’m part of that as a Curator. … To have development of not only their policies and procedures and their mandates reflected in our policies [is important.] It’s also important to have industry be consulted so that it's integrated within their structures. For me, one of the biggest criticisms is [that] we now have a permanent position at the National Gallery [of Canada] for Visual Art. Which is great, but again, it should be a whole department. There [are] many nations across Canada. One Mohawk voice [is there]. Small steps, but I'm optimistic.
I'll take you to the contemporary galleries if you like. We can do a scoot around the museum. Come on in!
The group moves into the art & photographic gallery spaces of the museum.
An image of the Woodland Cultural Centre gallery spaces.
Pat: This is the contemporary BIPOC space.
Pat motions to the open space with photographs along the walls.
Pat: I like to keep this space because it's small, it’s intimate, it has lower ceilings, and it really creates a nice [atmosphere]. I really like to use it for the more permanent exhibitions if I can. This space now is dedicated to [the] Indian Hall of Fame, which was shown at the Canadian National Exhibition back in 1967 and the committee at the time selected various people throughout the [years] who made significant contributions [here]. Anybody from any field is represented here. It has been inactive: it used to hang up in the museum, but again, we brought it out to induct Tom Hill into the [Indian] Hall of Fame for his contributions. That was just so emotional. For Tom, I had such big grandiose ideas during COVID: how do you do a big opening virtually, you know? It’s just not the same. It went well, it was well-received, and he still got a standing ovation. There weren’t many dry eyes on the screen, so it was really nice.
The group moves into the next room to the right: a gallery of Tom Hill’s artwork.
Pat: [He] is one of my mentors, as well as a few other Senior Curators. I'm very well-aware of [the] desk I sit behind in terms of paying it forward and supporting our artists. The retrospective that you’ll see [here] is pretty much his entire life, not just the past 50 years, as an artist. We have things that he made in high school and his very first painting. Talking about multidisciplinary [work and programming], how everything is interconnected [is so vital]. Originally, [the gallery here] was just supposed to be just his visual art, [but it] includes his ceramics [and] his drawings. I couldn't get examples of his beadwork, but he did beadwork. He did the ceramic tile for [the international and universal] Expo 67. In the smaller Judy Harris Gallery [next door], I included the family portraits that he’s done over the years and his most recent, which should be dry by now.
Pat: [It] Includes his family photographs and his participation in film; Shelley [Niro’s] Honey Moccasin film, [and] Drew Hayden Taylor’s The Baby Blues. He’s also going to come back and do an [Artist Talk] reading [in August 2021] which should be exciting. Again, [this collection speaks to] all that interconnectedness and all of these relationships that we as artists pull at.
Terri-Lynn: What are the goals [for this space] over the next few years?
Pat: Well, we were successful in getting a grant so language [panels] will be integrated all throughout the museum [that talk about the Thanksgiving address]. We have all six languages here. Tuscarora is a little harder to find, but they are represented. We’ll tour the museum, and it will have reference to the Thanksgiving Address. It is positioned so that we subconsciously recognize those changes to the history. That’s the way the museum is laid out: a linear pathway of time frames, from prehistory right up to contemporary. When I first came here, I always felt that it was a little fractured. The journey begins here, and you're confronted with the diagram of the village.
Pat motions to the first diorama pieces at the entrance of the museum.
Pat: If you don't understand the worldview, then it's really hard to grasp what you’re seeing. We have beautiful pieces in the collection, like the work from [sculptor] Stan Hill of the Tree of Peace: a beautiful antler carving. I think these things here become the beginning point to starting to relate [to] that worldview, [and] I think that is important [to include at the entrance]. When COVID is over, a lot of pieces will come back into the museum. For our anniversary, I will be bringing out a permanent collection exhibition, because there's a very small portion of the collection that is on display as is in any museum, of course. We have some beautiful examples of basketry, [too]. Oh, it's just an amazing collection. [With] the collection that is on display, my goal is to maintain [it] as much as possible. It's just a matter of also getting things in context with proper labeling, so it takes time. COVID has demanded us to think virtually [and] to change our own production, so people will be able to access a virtual tour from their phone on our website. That will be coming out shortly, as well as laying the groundwork for the ability to expand upon that. Once you have the app, you’ll be able to find out more information. So, there [are] things that are in the works that will help reach out to a wider audience, and it's a place to start.
The group moves into the next room of Tom Hill’s work.
Pat: So, this is Tom’s exhibition! We have works on loan here from the Indigenous Art Centre. One of his pivotal paintings, the Tree of Peace, references nicely with his Tadodaho painting, his ceramic vessels… I mean the connections are just so amazing. When I say multidisciplinary, I also mean interdisciplinary arts, because, again, [it’s a great opportunity to see the evolution of an artist’s work in] how his drawings translate into ceramics [and] how that transforms into drawings. His family was very generous in lending us works from their collection. [Pat motions to an art piece] His sister, Margaret, is famous for her Cityscape of New York: nice and gritty back in the 70s.
Pat motions to another art piece.
Pat: [Here is] his portrait of Banff in the 80s, including one of his original paintings of the longhouse: it’s really encompassing a large time frame. The diversity of his work is just incredible and very inspiring.
Pat motions to the next art piece.
Pat: [Here is] his most recent portrait of his family. This is Roberta [Jamieson’s] father, he was a jazz player. He used to go to New York and play jazz when everybody else was doing country. He does have an album that is in existence, [and] it’s in the archives. I was hoping to get it, but couldn’t quite manage that for the time. This connection to music and all that [is important]. I mean, he’s part of the Old Mush Singers so he has a photograph. He had to have photographs of the cast and crew of The Baby Blues. [These were] just some of the projects that he was a part of.
Pat motions to the next art piece.
Pat: This is one of his very first design panels that he did in school. It’s so retro; very cool. Of course, [there are] some of these curatorial examples as well. For these galleries moving forward, I would love to see taller ceilings, proper lighting tracks, the data ports, and the outlets in the floor to accommodate those installations that are now digital, where artists are creating this 3D world of virtual reality to be able to present those works. I am kind of limited to what I can show in these spaces, but I'm dreaming!
Pat: To be able to transform these spaces, I need a carpentry shop, I need a framing shop, [and] I need all these tools that the public won’t see. I need proper swinging doors from the loading dock to the galleries. These are things that people don't think about!
I put together this exhibition by myself during COVID. I cursed at the lighting tracks now and again.
Pat: To be able to control the lighting and have proper environmentals that are consistent [is vital].
Alex: [To] open up the artwork that you can store and exchange with others as well, eventually?
Pat: Yeah, absolutely. I'm able to bring in artwork and traveling exhibitions because of WCC. We can overlook some things.
The last show I brought in was… the Quilt of Belonging. The Quilt of Belonging had these humongous crates [it came in]. The issue is [that] we don't have a proper loading dock. … Being aware of those kinds of restrictions [is integral]. I've been very fortunate to be able to have those sorts of exchanges. [With] the programming that comes in, we are trying to do a three-year schedule so that we can book [in advance], but also have the flexibility to accommodate not only our Indigenous art exhibition that we do annually, but also include the education exhibitions that are outreached to our youth, and anything else from the permanent collection, to guest curators, to the gallery. So, there is diversity throughout.
A promotional image for the Quilt of Belonging exhibit at Woodland Cultural Centre.
Pat: For me as a Curator it’s that critical documentation of what we do [that is important to showcase], because it's world history. It's not just our Indigenous artistry that is seen on a global stage, and we have to be able to grow, to be evaluated, to see [that] our artists are being represented within that larger context. We're sharing our art story as critical writers. Canada really has fallen behind in terms of keeping all those magazines for critical writers to get those essays out. Everything is not always accessible online. [For example,] we lost Canadian Art this year. I can see this deterioration in this critical thinking and documentation.
Pat: It hasn't affected us directly. Carmen Robertson is the lead on that project so she's becoming the go-to woman. [She’s] knowledgeable. We'll be bringing up that discussion probably later in the Fall. You can’t talk about woodland art without talking about Morriseaus! Those types of discussions will probably be brought forward. Again, going back to Indigenous art, the very first exhibition was from PNIAI (Professional Native Indian Artists Inc.), the Indian Group of Seven. We had works by Norval [Morriseau], Daphne [Odjig], Jackson [Beardy], Eddie [Cobiness], and the rest of the gang. Of course, after that, others joined, like Alex Janvier. WCC has a very unique history in that if you are a visual artist, at some point in your career, you come through WCC.
Terri-Lynn: That’s great.
The group moves into the museum portion of the building, beginning with a period-piece diorama.
Pat: My challenge when I came here is the museum collection. The museum really hasn’t changed in the last several decades: it needs a refresh for sure. I'm also very limited in the space, and if I start pulling things apart, it's going to come off. I’m very limited at the moment, but I can make sure that it's contextualized by having extended labels [and] by having the legends incorporated: it's a place where we see ourselves reflected, and that's key.
Pat motions to the diorama at the entrance of the museum.
Pat: This kind of space is unique in the sense that [I wonder] why we don't have Sky Woman [in the painting.]
Terri-Lynn: I always thought that when I came in here. The potential for way more storytelling is so lost.
Pat: I also appreciate the digital world: I love touchscreens [and] I love audio. I don't participate really in audio tours myself per se. I think it's key for people to have that ability if they want to have that additional information. I'm working with exhibition designers to see what's out in terms of technology, touch screens, apps, and all that sort of thing. It’s bringing things to the forefront that is the challenge.
The other challenge is having the objects displayed within context but also having representation. For me, the archaeological part within the collection is huge, but you can have boxes and boxes of rocks. What do you do? We have so many more examples of what's here. Then again, [you might wonder] what is the woodland period? What are the dates on that? The basic information needs to be updated.
Now that we have summer students, we're doing a little bit more of the research and label making. Dioramas were big back then as well. They created these interiors of what our traditional longhouse might look like and the use a thousand years ago. Again, how accurate is it?
The group moves slightly to the left through the museum to see small dioramas behind glass cases.
Pat: The collection makes a really good reference [with] our pottery examples because our contemporary potters still use the traditional designs that are found in the pots. For the general public, I think it's good for them to know that we just do not belong in museum cases. [The] education [department] was responsible for this little diorama [near the front behind these glass cases]. I would love to switch this out. We have a beautiful collection of baskets. I mean, the diversity within the weaving itself is just incredible. I don't do that, and it amazes me that somebody has the patience to do all this!
Pat: Referencing our sustenance and all the interconnections of the different relationships, values, and the roles of males and females will get discussed on the public tours. I think that's important because, again, our education department is working on updating the current content and adding all of those curriculum ties so that there are teacher packages ready to go. We do have quite a few school tours that come through here. We work with many school boards across the region. They have laid out the museum in that timeline.
The group moves into the next room.
Pat: So, [now] you’re coming into this [First] Contact room. [Artist] Joe Powless was responsible for this mural, and when it's not COVID, this drawer pulls out and the little kids are encouraged to dig through the sand to find the objects, like little shards. It becomes an interactive room in that sense. The [room includes an] introduction to the fur trade and all those relationships.
We have some of the archaeological elements on display, but again, proper identification is a challenge to do. I don’t think this has changed since I’ve been here.
The group moves into the next room, focused on trade.
Pat: This room is a good opportunity to talk about the effects of trade, not realizing that we had free trade long before NAFTA. [It showcases] just some of the artifacts that were found at the Grimsby site, for example. I’m not sure of the exact site that they were digging. We don’t accept [certain] things into the collection, unless they come from that site with field notes because we get many people saying, “I found this arrowhead in my backyard, do you want it?” Well, no, thank you. We can’t really take it. We still do take the things that may be unique in that sense, that are undocumented for education purposes, so that [the] education [department] can take them and kids can have a hands-on experience.
The group moves up through the museum, highlighting the history of the Wampum Belt Agreements.
Pat: Then you move into the council and the Wampum Belts. Again, this Two Row [Wampum] is actually on loan from the Chapel. Ours is right now at the National Gallery in response to their Rembrandt exhibition and the relationship with the Dutch. The Chapel was very generous in lending us theirs because we can't be a Cultural Centre without the Two Row [Wampum Belt]. We do have some archival photographs.
Pat motions to photographs of Chiefs holding a Wampum Belt, on display.
Pat: These are the Chiefs with the actual Belt. That opens up a discussion about [that] these are the actual shells. We do have examples of some of our languages in the museum, but we would like 50% [in English, with] the languages being first and foremost. It's a place to start.
The group moves up the ramp into an area with woven baskets behind glass to the right, and an artfully crafted tree to the left.
Pat: This section is the Spirit of the Forest. I remember coming here back in the 80s and I remember a soundtrack playing. For me, sound is a very important element that I would really like to integrate back into the museum. It’s just kind of a subconscious thing. I find [audio] to be really effective, to be able to start to open those dialogues to certain questions. This showcase here are just examples of things that come from the forest. Again, proper documentation of our snow snakes, the mudcats, the type of bowls, [and] the type of baskets [is vital]. [For example,] our education department can expand on [things like] what type of tree [these items] came from. When you come through with doing a virtual tour, you will have the image, but you have the ability to click onto the image and say, “oh, that's an ash basket,” and then have more information. We have had workshops in the past on how to make your own split ash basket. It [takes] a couple of days to do that. I'm looking forward to the day when we can actually have in-person one-off workshops, [and] I see [the series of workshops] very much as a process as well. [In these workshops, we could answer questions like] how do you get the grass? Where does the grass grow? How do you gather the grass? How do you treat the grass? It all becomes like a Monty Python scenario!
Pat: It’s like, “well, you have to have this first…” To be able to develop the programming so that people can either participate in a one-off workshop or a series, and pick and choose what they want to, or pick the entire series… that's my goal in terms of education [and] in developing these workshops that accompany the museum references of the material culture. We have lots and lots of knowledgeable people. [They can teach things like] where do you get the corn? What kind of corn?
The group moves around the corner and up the ramp into the War of 1812 section of the museum.
Pat: Then, of course, we move into the history of the War of 1812 and all of that good stuff. There's so much that could be added to this section. Again, I would love to see a little bit more [of an] interactive display in here. There are just so many stories to tell, so many people involved, [and] so many items. I think also for here they talk about tattooing and the references to the Wampum Belts that you just saw. There are lots of opportunities to start making these connections.
Pat points to a video silently playing on a digital screen in the background.
Pat: I think this video is relatively new. It explains the Haldimand Tract. Of course, we have the Battle of Queenston Heights, the Haldimand Proclamation, a copy thereof, so that people understand the map of six miles on either side. We have examples of some of the archaeological findings from the area of what the Chapel used to look like. Apparently, it was not originally where it was placed today. This is a Western European perspective of what it could have been.
The group continues through the museum, noting dioramas behind glass on the right.
Pat: They were big on dioramas! I love hearing kids’ reactions to them. A kid one day said, “I can see his bum in the water!”
Pat: Kids are very observant. It's hard to work within a space that's so convoluted, because you have lighting, HVAC, all of the technical logistics.
The group moves up into a room about the former Mohawk Institute.
Pat: We have this little section dedicated to the residential school, the MI (Mohawk Institute). These are actually some of the objects that they found in school when renovating. The quilt was stuffed in behind the walls, in the building itself. [There was a] boys’ side [and] girls’ side, but up in the attic, there was this crawl space that the kids could actually go back and forth. A lot of their stuff was found stuffed in between the walls.
I’m good at artist intervention. They had already placed Darren Douglas’ painting of residential schools here when I came here, so I just took it a step further and added Betts Doxtater’s Corn Husk Doll that she dedicated to the children. I think it becomes very poignant to be able to connect these stories within that context. [There is an] actual sewing machine that the girls would have used to sew the quilts. The boys were active in agriculture and farming. When you come up the drive, there used to be the [apple] orchard, [except] they couldn't eat the apples. It's all of these stories that get related in this section. Of course, [we have a] map pointing out where these schools are today. I’ve been to some of the sites myself out west when I've been traveling. It's just a weird feeling. Heavy; very ominous for sure. We're all very much connected in that sense. I think maybe people are now starting to connect the dots.
The group moves into the next room, fashioned in the style of a longhouse, with benches laid out.
Pat: As we move along, there is a tour of the longhouse. Again, we had to remove some of it because of COVID, but you get the gist. It’s a good resting point for the school tours to come through and talk about the traditional systems, the clan systems, the roles and responsibilities, [and] the protocols so that they understand the concept of longhouse.
The group moves into the next room.
Pat: This is the Council room. I think you mentioned Heather [George] earlier: she’ll be working with Rick [Hill] on that whole project encompassing 1824, the 150th anniversary of when the Council came to be. It’s going to be a huge project. Normally we have the chair that you actually see in the image: we actually have in the collection. We have some of the items, [like] the painting of John Brant is here. When politicians visited, we have that document picture. This whole Confederacy [and] Elected Council story will be explained [and] the exhibition that Heather is working on is dedicated solely to that. I'm looking forward to seeing it [and] how the community becomes involved.
[Here we have] James Beaver, one of our first multidisciplinary artists, painter, but also performer [and] woodcarver of furniture, known for his landscapes. Of course, Pauline [Johnson’s work is here]. Another quilt that was found in the former Mohawk Institute buildingI [is here too]. Again, we only have a couple of baskets on display, but we have a beautiful collection [of] diversity of baskets. It’s amazing! Same with our pottery. Hopefully, we'll get some of this changed up. I have moved some of these items from where they were into cases because people do have a tendency to touch everything. [We] recognize people like Tom Longboat, his contribution as well as his contributions to the war and honoring our veterans. The banner was made by the Women’s League. I’m working on extended panels because I'm finding as I walk through the museum, what is really missing is our women. We don’t have a lot of that representation. We are a matriarchal society. I see that contribution and the war efforts.
Pat motions to a structure displaying the names of soldiers.
Pat: This is one of the first donations that I accepted [after] coming here. Their exhibition tour is now over. They had several of these special cases made and then their exhibition traveled across Canada. They went and they used the 3-D projection to scan the walls of the tunnels at Vimy [Ridge] that the soldiers had used. They found all of these carvings and writings within the tunnels, and so they documented it all. They dedicated this case to the Indigenous soldiers. As it happens, [Six Nations soldiers] Jacob Williams [and] Jacob Silversmith who were obviously at Vimy, also went to the former Mohawk Institute. We have community members represented here. I had a gentleman who recognized John Byrne. [He said, “oh, that would be my great uncle.” It's amazing. These cases came to us very generously. It's in Braille as well, so it is accessible. I was very happy to have this in place alongside our other contributions.
The group moves into the next room, displaying photographs and posters of the 20th century.
An image of contemporary art and culture exhibits in the Woodland Cultural Centre museum.
Pat: Then we move into the 20th century. One of the big exhibitions that we did back in the 80s was a tribute to our Ironworkers: the Skywalkers. [They worked on] all the bridges in Montreal and the skyscrapers in New York. Our men worked on the Twin Towers. It's a very interesting history. It was a very seminal exhibition for WCC and to see those community relationships within families, and it's so important to tell those narratives and make those connections.
The group moves into a section with artistic posters and a crafted totem pole.
Pat: This space is in transition. This section is based on stereotypes. I like talking about this section: it’s very much in the visual art realm, the world I come from; especially the small totem which is actually a pole that belongs to contemporary artist Mary Anne Barkhouse, [and] her family. This is her house pole. This house pole has a very unique history in the sense that even Edward Curtis has it documented in his film In the Land of the Head Hunters. It's the little pole in Stanley Park that has been reproduced in postcards and everything else. It becomes iconic. Of course, Mary Anne has full rights to the use of any reinterpretation of her house pole. At the time, she and her partner Michael Belmore did a salt cast resin casting of her pole in sections. They had the Thunderbird in one section, the Bear on the other stand, and the Man on the final one. Michael had made beautiful cedar stands for it because they were massive. They were placed in the gallery. On Michael’s side of the family, he cast a braid of sweetgrass, a set of bear claws … what else? There were three items cast in salt. He put it on a stand of copper. Of course, when you put salt on copper, you know what happens. That becomes a metaphor for our culture. It’s interesting to see how contemporary art is influenced going back to our objects.
The group moves to see a series of posters of Indigenous contemporary performers.
Pat: Of course, [this section is] a nod to our contemporary performers. I also think of who is not here, like Gary Farmer [and] Graham Greene, who [have] opened the doors for many of our young performers, like Logan [Staats], to see that development is really amazing, especially in the music world and all the influences. [Here are] more examples of contemporary art and how relevant they still are today, [such as] to the Caledonia Land Claims. All very poignant. We’re going to have banners hanging from the ceiling with our words, [and we’ll] switch out some of these displays to actually read what is on the displays. That is a long-term goal: to be able to switch out the museum. We’re actually transforming our former Board room now to an institute gift shop… of what it used to be, way back when. It’s a work in progress.
The group moves back into the foyer of the space, exiting the museum sections.
JP: There’s a hallway [to the left], and there are offices off of that [we can see].
Pat: This wing [has] the offices [for] the admin[istration]: Janis’ office, my office, maintenance, [and] marketing is there. In the other building, we have a language library and [the] education [department], plus additional admin[istration] offices.
JP: The vault is around the back of the building as well?
Pat: Yes. We have shipping and receiving in that big thing that sticks out. That’s where the collection is. Then, of course, we have the outdoor installations which are being maintained as we speak because we are working to take care of outdoor artwork. It needs updates. [I was] talking to Lisa Myers this past week. She was down with her gardener, so we'll be instituting Mike McDonald's Butterfly Garden. Those are those two structures that you see, down at the bay. Mike was actually one of our senior seminal artists back in the day who was working in media and video installations and creating these gardens across Canada. There are very few gardens that are still in existence. One of them, of course, is in Banff. We kind of rectified that project in bringing a lot of these gardens back to life, and she’ll be creating a podcast [of] a history of the gardens. That really gives us the opportunity to go back and talk about our medicine plants: what's Indigenous, [and] what is not. Of course, it also becomes a metaphor because we have plants like hops, which are not Indigenous, and they have that tendency to take over and so forth. That’s why the poles are there to create that shade needed for the rest of the plants. It really creates that narrative and that continuity of what we're trying to do in terms of being able to relate that work. Of course, Kelly Green’s Solar Green House is outside and she comes quite regularly to maintain it only using Indigenous species.
There's so much. I'd love to see an outdoor amphitheatre [here]. We’ve got great artisans [and] architects who are creating these things now. All the possibilities are there. In a couple of years, we should be ready to open the Mush Hole as an interpretive centre to the public. Lots of things happening here.
Terri-Lynn: It's nice to have a tour [with] someone explaining everything as opposed to me just interpreting.
Pat: Well, that was the quick version!
Pat: We created an artist tourism talk with Tom, [and] it's in production. It will be released next month. People will have that opportunity to hear Tom talk about his work.
We had so much community support from the arts community, in general, to go ahead and do a publication with Tom. We’re so happy about that. We’ll hear from both Indigenous curators and artists to write for Tom. We have people like Rick Hill to speak about the Ongwehon:we references in his work. People like Trudy Nicks [Senior Curator Emeritus with the Royal Ontario Museum/ROM], has a case of Tom’s in the ROM’s collection, The Spirit Still Sings. [It’s all] still really very poignant today, because that was one of the seminal exhibitions from years ago which is part of that Indigenous art history in Canada. It also launched a lot of news like Rebecca Belmore doing performance pieces and protests for what was happening at the time. Of course, [another connection is to] the Shell oil pipeline that was going through, as many pipelines are [still] going. There are a lot of really interesting connections in terms of social and political developments throughout that time frame.
I look back at the next generation of Curators and writers: they have their Masters, their PhDs, [and] they have all the tools to move this forward… but again, at the heart of it, we started as artists. It’s an interesting journey.
Alex: I feel like the purpose of today is here (WCC) in this space. Not there (former Mohawk Institute), but it’s part of the story. I definitely feel it over there.
Pat: Well, that’s not our culture. It is what was imposed. This is what we have left, [and] this is who we are. That’s the difference. Even the scale of buildings. I can’t change the past, but I sure can mess with the future.
I think Janis has a very good vision of what we want to achieve here and I think we are really well on our way to having a cohesive vision to be able to move forward. I’m just very excited. In terms of fundraising, I want to concentrate on this building.
The U of T architecture course that Janis mentioned is also fascinating because it’s a project of bringing in Indigenous architects. Douglas Cardinal was even kind enough to step in, and that was part of his evaluation. It was interesting to see how that was developed and the progress forward. I've met several young architects who are women which wouldn’t have existed twenty years ago.
Alex: Indigenous architecture and design… that’s interesting [how it is] related.
Pat: I gave them about three or four examples from the collection and they were inspired by the pots, by basketry, [and] by a canoe. Some of the examples [that] students came up with were phenomenal!
I think WCC is very much a part of [contributing to that Indigenous art history], especially with Tom Hill here… and going back to the past. I would often say “Leanne, how come?” when I first started out. Now I say “okay, Leanne!”
Pat: It’s interesting to see the work that they as senior curators have done, [such as] her work at Canada Council for Curators in residencies, [and] Tom’s work on the Museum task force. It is so much a part of the history, and bringing WCC to that international stage. We still are on that international stage. Aside from here, our artwork still goes to museums. I’m working with Jason Baerg to get his work over at Canada House later this year. Tom had always supported all the artists no matter what they did. I was a benefit of that, as our paths had crossed over the years. We got to work on an Art Gallery of Ontario project together. That was phenomenal! I think I have a photograph in my archives somewhere of Tom laying on the floor painting the Thanksgiving Address on the wall there.
JP: If this started in the early 70s, what else was going on? [Were there] any other places in the country or this might be the oldest?
Pat: It's the oldest. I think 1967 was such a pivotal year because, again, those people in the Hall of Fame were instrumental in bringing Expo 67 to fruition. … The stories just continue. That’s what is exciting for me, especially as an artist: to see who is doing what, [and] at the same time realizing the importance [of their work in the world]. That’s kind of like a validation. I want to bring [the museum] back to where Tom had it in terms of director previews, letting collectors actually purchase works, and understanding the importance of WCC. Lots to do.