Community telling its own story

Posted on September 16, 2007
Filed Under Metepenagiag | Leave a Comment

ohalloran-chiefs-coat.jpg                                                                                                                                                                                                         The richly decorated embroidery and the more than 13 kilograms of beadwork in the O’Halloran Chiefs Coat is a testament to the 19th century skills of the Mi’kmaq women. The coat appears courtesy of the Canadian Museum of Civilization,

             Wayne Kerr would prefer that he and his colleagues, like conservator, Colleen Day, and audiovisual specialist, Peter Gravel, be invisible. “My job is to help the Metepenagiag community tell its own story,” he says. He insists all the focus should be on the community. “The advisory committee has all the say.” he says. “The emphasis is that they were here 3,000 years ago and they are still here in the modern era. Most of the characters on-screen in the videos and all in the multimedia theatre production are local and exhibits speak as “We” to emphasize that it is the Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq community speaking.”

            Kerr is the Manager, Interpretation and Client Services for Metepenagiag Heritage Park Incorporated. He is on loan from Parks Canada to the $7.2 million local community and facility tentatively set to open to the public in early August. He is responsible for overseeing the development of all content, exhibits, multimedia components and signage for Metepenagiag Heritage Park. Every element will be in Mi’kmaq, English and French.

             A key objective is to encourage this and future generations to learn and preserve the Mi’kmaq language. “This will be the most comprehensive use of Mi’kmaq language in any exhibition in Atlantic Canada,” says Kerr. Metepenagiag Heritage Park makes extensive use of audiovisual presentations to give recognition to the oral history of the Mi’kmaq. In the building’s main exhibit hall, visitors will be greeted by a video welcome. In the theatre, visitors will see a stunning, 20-minute, multimedia production in front, above, below and on both sides of them. Visitors will choose their language, Mi’kmaq, English or French, on their headsets.

            An exclusive video in the exhibits shows the modern-day descendants of the mighty sturgeon, the Mi’kmaq battled at night by torchlight in ancient times.

             One of the displays is a huge reproduction of the late Mi’kmaq artist Roger Simon’s interpretation of a sturgeon hunt. In front of the Simon piece is a traditional 10-foot, birchbark Mi’kmaq canoe handmade by  MHP Heritage Interpreter, Patricia Dunnett. Another shows visitors a helicopter view of the entire Miramichi River basin from the mouth of the bay to Metepenagiag. Another shows the archaeological layers over three millennia. Visitors can use a computer touch-screen to see descriptions, artifacts and photographs of the excavations revealing a particular time period.

             In keeping with the oral tradition, Stephen Augustine, a curator at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa/Hull, recorded a Mi’kmaq creation story  passed down in his family.             A highlight of the exhibits will be the O’Halloran Chiefs’ Coat. The exhibit text reads: “The Miramichi and Restigouche chiefs presented this coat to Captain Henry O’Halloran when they made him an honourary chief in 1841. Local Mi’kmaq women’s skills are evident in the richly decorated embroidery and the more than 13 kilograms of beadwork. Captain O’Halloran worked with Moses Perley, Indian Agent for New Brunswick, in preparing a census of the Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik populations.”            The final exhibit is a montage of dozens of photos of members of the community from the present and recent past, reminding visitors that the community is still here and moving ahead into the future. “The community wants the exhibits to give perspective, focus and hope” says Kerr.

                                                                                                                                                                                        

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