Montreal's McCord Museum offers people a chance to learn about Indigenous cultures for free

Montreal's McCord museum is inviting people to learn more about Indigenous history and culture by offering free entry to two exhibitions and a film screening, leading up to Indigenous People's Day.

Museum will open First Nations exhibits to the public from June 19 to 21

Wearing Our Identity is a permanent collection of Indigenous clothing and accessories from across Canada. It's been on display at Montreal's McCord Museum since 2013 and is set to be replaced by a new First Nations exhibit in the coming months. (McCord Museum)

Jonathan Lainey, curator of Indigenous Cultures and a member of the Huron-Wendat nation, says waiving the entry fee to two exhibits and a film screening for three days at the McCord Museum is a call to action.

"It's not only an opportunity, I think it's a responsibility," he said.

From June 19 to 21, visitors will be able to see the following works and exhibits, providing they book a reservation online:

  • Wearing Our Identity - The First Peoples Collection.
  • There Once Was a Song by Meryl McMaster, an artist of nêhiyaw (Plains Cree), British and Dutch heritage.
  • Smudge - a short film produced by Angie Pepper O'Bomsawin.

Lainey says the museum wanted to mark National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21 by sharing First Nations culture with a new audience, but the recent discovery of children's remains at a residential school in Kamloops, B.C. was a reminder that the McCord also has a responsibility to invite people to confront Canada's past.

"This initiative, it's really oriented to non-Indigenous people," Lainey said. "Everyone can come to see these objects and learn more about Indigenous cultures and history."

"It's what the TRC commissioners told us: it's a collective effort," he added. "If reconciliation is to happen, that will require this effort from the general public."

Jonathan Lainey is a member of the Huron-Wendat Nation and the curator of Indigenous Cultures at the McCord Museum. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission laid out the history of Canada's attempts to eradicate Indigenous language and culture and outlined 94 calls to action to guide governments, communities and faith groups down the road to reconciliation.

Wearing Our Identity, on display since 2013, is an extensive collection of traditional clothing and accessories worn by First Nations in Quebec and across the country. June will be its last run but Lainey says another permanent Indigenous collection will be revealed soon.

Meryl McMaster's There Once Was a Song blends photography, sculpture and video to look at our desire to control time and nature. McMaster says she was inspired by the museum's collection of 19th century bell jars, glass containers of carefully preserved plants and animals, and how the desire to distill nature leads us to disregard the wisdom of the land and its history.

"The works...consider and accept this fear of loss as a natural aspect of our experience, something that we all share," McMaster said.

Meryl McMaster describes herself as being of nêhiyaw (Plains Cree), British and Dutch heritage and is one of the McCord Museum's artists in residence. Her exhibit There Once Was a Song combines sculpture, video and photography to explore humanity's desire to control nature and time. (McCord Museum)

Smudge is a five-minute film by Mohawk/Abenaki producer Angie Pepper O'Bomsawin, created as part of the Festival Quartiers Danses contemporary dance festival. It was created with choreographer and dancer Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo, who is featured in the film alongside Emily Kahente Diabo, another Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) dancer. 

For Lainey, the two free exhibits and film screening are a way to show people that Indigenous cultures are still present, alive and vocal. He says that vitality is what motivates his day-to-day work.

"They were pushed, we wanted them to disappear," he said. "We believe the museums have this responsibility to promote Indigenous cultures, to show that they're not dead."