Abenakis, Algonquins, Atikamekw, Crees, Hurons-Wendat, Inuit, Malecites, Micmacs, Innu, Mohawks, Naskapis... What do we really know of the history and culture of the 87,000 Aboriginal who live in Québec today? A permanent exhibition at the Musée de la civilisation, Nous, les premières nations (Encounter with the First Nations) porposes a remarkable encounter with the eleven First Nations who inhabit Québec.
In an approach based on emotion, the exhibition goes far beyond the usual folklore and clichés that often conceal the realities of Aboriginal life. It is divided into seven thematic areas which revolve around the issues of identity, economic interests, political power, territory, and communications. Four educational spaces are also integrated into the exhibition.
Eleven Nations, seven themes
From the outset, the exhibition opens up on themes that are at the very foundation of all the aspirations of Aboriginal people living in Québec: those related to their identity. Who are they? What does this identity mean to them individually? How do they define themselves, both individually and collectively, in today's reality with its references to the past and its projections towards the future. Further on, the exhibition focuses on the issues related to territory and autonomy, seen from the viewpoint of history and through the illustration of the traditional ways of life. As visitors come to the end of their encounter, they are led to a large, convivial area where they can surf on the Internet to explore Aboriginal thematic sites, listen to an Algonquian legend or leaf through an Amerindian periodical.
Most of the 500 objects on display in the exhibition are part of the Musée de la civilisation's collection. Many pieces of the Museum's magnificent Inuit art collection are shown throughout the exhibition. At the entrance, the work of Innu artist Diane Robertson (1960-1993) titled Le piège qui s'efface (The Fading Trap), welcomes visitors. Other objects on display also present a special interest, such as the ceremonial costume of Huron Chief Tahourenche (François-Xavier Picard), canoes, Atikamekw and Algonquin crafted bark baskets, hunting and fishing implements of various origins, Huron and Micmac ornamental baskets.
A few of the most unusual pieces are part of the collections of the Musée de l'Amérique française, such as shell-beaded wampums and an Iroquoian vase. A splendid 11-meter long rabaska (birch bark canoe) built by the late Cesar Newashish of the Atikamekw Nation is also on display. Finally, a great number of Amerindian and Inuit garments are exhibited in the areas dealing with past and modern Aboriginal identity.
All these objects of daily life, some of them being common to all the Nations while others are specific to one or another, lead us to the discovery of the traditional lifestyle of the eleven Nations, each with its own characteristics. The various materials used for their realization - taken from the flora, fauna or mineral world - bear witness to the geographical and historical diversities of the lives of these communities. By learning about the value and role of these objects, at times utilitarian and at times symbolic or legendary one gains a better understanding of the Amerindians of today.
While the objects focus mostly on the traditional aspects of Aboriginal cultures, the iconographic and audiovisual documents deal with their contemporary aspects.
Moving audiovisual documents... by Arthur Lamothe
Who better than film-maker Arthur Lamothe could have produced the exhibition's audiovisuals? The major part of his more than 30-year film career has been devoted to the exploration of the Amerindian world. Throughout the years, his knowledge of the human environment and a natural empathy have made of him a privileged and attentive witness of the life of modern Québec Aboriginal communities. While some documents are drawn from his extensive filmography, others were produced specifically for the exhibition, including ten interviews with members of the First Nations expressing their views on the issues raised by the exhibition.
A resolutely contemporary design
The design of the large exhibition hall bears strong evidence of the contemporary character of the exhibition and is the expression of the Museum's innovative outlook on Aboriginal issues. The perspectives and horizons are suggestive of the immensity of the territory that has been covered by past and present generations. The overall design suggests a contemporary people, strongly related to the past, but also and mostly identified with the present and the future. The exhibition as a whole expresses the contrasts in the lives of these communities, both attached to their oral tradition and connected to the Internet, who venerate the word of their elders while pursuing university studies...
An essential partnership with the First Nations
Throughout the creation of the exhibition, the Musée de la civilisation has worked in close concertation with the eleven First Nations living in Québec. Representatives from each Nation have followed every step of the project and an Algonquian museologist is part of the production team.
Québec's First Nations, a major permanent exhibition of the Musée de la civilisation, starting October 21, 1998. An exhibition produced in collaboration with the Canadian Department of Indian Affairs and Nothern Development , Heritage Canada and the Secrétariat aux affaires autochtones du Québec.
Information and Reservations
Press relations : Serge Poulin, 418 528-2072 / Email
Issued: October 20, 1998