We were recently invited to the opening of the Indigenous Ingenuity exhibition at the Montreal Science Centre. Joining some friends, we attended the mid-week soiree, enthusiastically curious about how Indigenous knowledge would be shared. The evening was opened with a presentation of First Nations dancers and speeches by organizers and politicians welcoming us onto Mohawk territory. After some time mingling and enjoying appetizers we were welcomed into the exhibit.
We started with the “Regalia” room, a photo series where we were greeted by the friendly faces of our pow wow family members.
For those who are unfamiliar, pow wows are First Nations cultural gatherings. Some are competition, and some are traditional; all include singing around the big drum and dancing, both recreational and ceremonial. The pow wow community is like a family as dancers, drummers, and vendors travel every weekend during the summer to the gatherings in different locations. We follow the pow wow trail, doing all three of these things; Akawui is a drummer and singer with the group Red Tail Spirit Singers, our son, Elk, is a grass dancer in the Tiny Tots category, and I am a vendor for the brand. We have made so many good friends along the way who share our love of Indigenous people, cultures and the arts.
So, we walked proudly through the room full of photos of many of the people we know from the “pow wow trail.” Photos in the exhibit showed pow wow dancers in and out of their regalia, presenting the reality of our contemporary identities as First Nations people.
The next part of the exhibit featured a vast range of Indigenous knowledge, discussing everything from the affects of climate change on Indigenous communities to moccasin construction.
Interactive games were scattered throughout, and I played my unsuccessful hand at spear-fishing. Too slow. Other activities such as virtual dog sledding, igloo building (with plastic blocks), identifying animal tracks, and more were occupied by excited families, attempting their hands at traditional tasks.
One of the most important parts of it all, to me, was the transfer of Indigenous knowledge, taught by Indigenous people. Videos featured Indigenous people sharing information with viewers and were available in both French and English.
The valuing of Indigenous voices (and giving them credit!) is a relatively new concept in western museums. The knowledge keepers featured in the exhibit were presented in their normal environments and attire, not having to present their “Indianness” through traditional garments or setting. It was a real presentation of who we are as modern peoples. Our cultures have evolved, and our communities carry a significant range of useful knowledge about the world around us. This exhibition presented that and made it fun and accessible to attendees. Additionally, attendees were invited to participate in a interactive game where their newly acquired knowledge was tested via digital quiz. This allowed for a fun and competitive environment in which learning from Indigenous people was the goal.
It was a truly enjoyable and indigenious evening.