Wednesday, 21 June 2017 14:23

Storyteller speaks about reconciliation at museum

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Joseph Naytowhow speaks at the Swift Current Museum's lunch and learn, June 14. Joseph Naytowhow speaks at the Swift Current Museum's lunch and learn, June 14.

The 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation in 2017 marks a significant moment in the country’s history, but it also provides Canadians with an opportunity to reflect on their past and to think about the future.


The Swift Current Museum’s current exhibition “1905: Saskatchewan’s road to Confederation” gives an overview of events from the earliest times, when the region was the home of indigenous people, to the exploration and settlement of the area by Europeans and the creation of the province of Saskatchewan in 1905.
“I wanted to tell the full story, which started 10,000 years ago,” said Stephanie Kaduck, the museum’s education and public programs officer. “That includes the First Nation side of everything that happened that made us able to join confederation.”
On June 14 the museum hosted a lunch and learn event on the theme of truth and reconciliation as a complement to the current exhibition. The guest speaker was Joseph Naytowhow, an award-winning interdisciplinary artist and residential school survivor.
“I specifically sought him out because I thought that the stories he had to tell were very important stories,” Kaduck said. “Everybody has to realize that the comfort and wealth that we live in, is not shared equally and that people need to know what the actual story was.”
Naytowhow used a combination of storytelling, music and song to talk about his journey towards healing and reconciliation. He considers the Canada 150 commemoration to be an opportunity to hear the truth about First Nations experiences.
“So for me (Canada) 150 is maybe just the beginning of hearing our stories about what happened here,” he told the Prairie Post. “The truth is something I’ve always been doing for the last 30 years, trying to inform people about that gently. So to celebrate is not in my opinion the way to go totally. I think you need to celebrate but you also need to memorialize. You need to do those both in tandem. That’s why I do what I do. I combine arts with difficult stories. If you combine those, then we can slowly move on together, but we need to hear these stories.”
He believes reconciliation will be more meaningful if people can share their experiences with others, because it will create mutual understanding. He feels truth and reconciliation will happen through an understanding of each other’s stories.
“It’s more important that one soul to another soul share their truth,” he said. “I know Canadians have suffered as well that have lived here, so I hear their stories. They didn't go through what I went through, but they had their own family history when they came over here from Europe. We do need to hear those stories.”
In the past he did not want to listen to the stories of others, but his attitude changed as a result of his own healing.
“I needed to hear friends and people that I live with, tell their story about what they went through,” he said. “Initially I didn’t want to, because I was in so much pain that I wanted them to only to listen to me. It was like my story is the most important here, not yours.”
He believes it is important to speak in a respectful manner when you share your story with others, because it is also emphasized by the elders.
“That’s one of the things that we’re always told — speak respectfully, walk carefully on the land wherever you go, and think, use your mind properly,” he said. “Those are the three things that they always tell us, the old people. Even though I was enraged, I was hearing this from elders. If you're enraged, remember you got to speak respectfully, but you also move about respectfully. Don’t re-victimize yourself or don’t blame people.”
The Swift Current Museum’s current exhibition presents information about the changing position of First Nations on the prairie over thousands of years.
It refers to the importance of the bison to traditional societies, their contact with Europeans, the decline and eventual collapse of the bison population, the treaty system and the creation of reserves, the arrival of the railroad and European settlement of the land, and the eventual creation of the province of Saskatchewan.
The exhibition includes information about residential schools in the province.
The first residential schools in Saskatchewan opened in 1883 and the last one closed in 1996. There is reference to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the need to recognize that we are all treaty people. Kaduck feels a reflection on the past during Canada’s 150th anniversary points to the need for more effort to achieve reconciliation.
“I think what we can learn is that we’re all treaty people and that we got our side of the treaty,” she said. “We would not have homes or roads or any infrastructure if we had not received our terms, but they did not receive their terms. … There are so many northern communities in Canada that don’t have drinkable water, which is third world conditions, and is not acceptable.”
This exhibition will be at the Swift Current Museum until Sept. 4.
The museum is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 1-5 p.m. From June to August the museum is also open on Sundays from 1-5 p.m.

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Matthew Liebenberg

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