How Mi'kmaq knowledge from Conne River is celebrated in a one-of-a-kind encyclopedia
Atlantic Voice: Making Visible Middle River
St. John's artist Pam Hall founded the Encyclopedia of Local Knowledge (ELK) to gather, honour and share what she calls "living knowledge": the stuff that is often undervalued, but deeply tied to place.
Her latest project — a collaboration with artist Jerry Evans and the Miapukek Mi'kmaq of Conne River, in southern Newfoundland, is the subject of Making Visible — Middle River, a new documentary from CBC Radio's Atlantic Voice.
The first ELK, from Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula, shared information about everything from berry picking and bottling to moose hunting and mapping.
The second edition, from Fogo and Change Islands, explored quilting and knitting as well as boat building, knots and so much more.
The encyclopedia exists in many forms: a printed book, a box of loose pages that can be framed and displayed, and digital content that can be seen and appreciated anywhere.
It proves without a shadow of a doubt that all knowledge is not white.- Pam Hall
ELK-Middle River is unique in that it is the largest and the first bilingual ELK, written in two languages: Mi'kmaq and English.
But it's also unique because it makes visible knowledge that has been marginalized by governments and society.
Hall said the project is important as a critique of Western knowledge. The encyclopedia describes everything from how to cook moose nose to scald pork buns, how to harvest spruce roots and withrod for baskets, what certain ceremonial clothing means to the community, and how elders used the land.
When Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949, the government did not recognize or support Indigenous groups. That policy resulted in a kind of cultural erasure.
As well, many churches banned Indigenous languages and cultural expressions. By 1986, when Conne River became the first reserve in Newfoundland and Labrador, the culture and language were hanging on by a thread.
Eva John Roberts recreated a ceremonial peaked cap for the project. She sewed the item, basing the design on a cap her grandmother wore at special events.
Jerry Evans, a well-known printmaker whose artwork explores his Mi'kmaq identity, embraced the encyclopedia as an opportunity to dive into his culture.
Once it is gone, it is gone. People are taking more pride now.- Eva John Roberts
"We learned how to skin and split eels. We learned a lot ourselves, but this project is about decolonization and educating the settler population," Evans said.
"We existed here eking out a living for generations. We fed our children and got by. Like many other indigenous communities in Newfoundland, there are 10 other bands registered with FNI, and with our relations in Labrador, we've all been fighting for generations for visibility and recognition and it's still ongoing."
Have a listen: Find out about the latest Encyclopedia of Local Knowledge in this radio documentary from CBC's Atlantic Voice:
Sixteen-year-old Cassidy Lambert's page in the encyclopedia is called Embracing the Jingle Dance. She was thrilled to be part of the project.
"Seeing everything is amazing. I feel honoured to be in this book," she said.
Rod Jeddore, the director of education in Conne River, was given the school's printed copy of the encyclopedia at the launch, but he was most excited about the website.
"Any school can come in and learn about our culture," Jeddore said.
"The printed material doesn't have the same value now. When we were young, you sat and you listened and you conversed more. Today kids sit down and they're engrossed in their phones. That's who they are; we can't change that. We have to change what we do to fit what they like."
Barry Joe used this project to gain some training as a Mi'kmaq translator. He started with only four words, but eventually went on translate whole pages for this project.
His work is an example of the resilience of the Miapukek Mi'kmaq and how much sweat is involved in keeping a culture alive.
ELK-Middle River makes visible a culture that has been dismissed by generations of settlers. Chief Misel Joe congratulated all the participants and the co-authors. There are physical copies of the Encyclopedia of Local Knowledge-Middle River at the band council, the Discovery Centre, St. Anne's School and Memorial University.
The digital version is online. Co-authors Hall and Evans hope these 80 pages will inspire hundreds more.