Whitecap Dakota First Nation teams up with Sask. museum in photo naming project

Whitecap Dakota First Nation and Western Development Museum collaborate in upcoming photo archive project.

Putting names to faces: Truth and Reconciliation finds its way into the Western Development Museum

Whitecap Dakota First Nations members in a photo that will be part of an exhibit at Saskatoon's Western Development Museum in the fall. (Submitted by Western Development Museum)

The Whitecap Dakota First Nation community is thrilled to have some of its family photos and artifacts included in an upcoming exhibit, at the Western Development Museum (WDM), that highlights part of Saskatchewan's history from an Indigenous perspective.

"A lot of times, history comes only from one side, the non-Indigenous side,' said Whitecap Dakota First Nations Chief Darcy Bear. "But in this case, you're getting a history from both sides from the Indigenous perspective, as well as a non-Indigenous perspective. So it's a good collaboration."

Saskatoon's WDM, the largest human history museum in the province, is partnering with Whitecap Dakota First Nation, about 40 km south of the city, to put together a photo exhibit, scheduled to open to the public in October.

Frank Royal, one of the band councillors, who has been involved in the preparations is happy that pictures of some of his relatives will be showcased. He remembers hearing stories from his mother about his grandfather, Paul Littlecrow, being a trick rider as a horseman. And seeing the photos have sparked memories for him. 

"I saw pictures of him [my grandfather] driving some oxen or on a wagon at that museum, and also the pictures of him in the parade. My mother was also in the parade," Royal said.

Creating a more inclusive space

The WDM is committed to being more inclusive of stories outside the current colonial-settler narrative. 

And the project is one of the ways the museum has taken to heart the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's recommendations — specifically in answering call to action no. 67, which pertains to libraries, museums and archives. It calls for museums to re-examine how Indigenous communities are reflected in the historical narrative. 

This exhibit is inspired by similar projects, such as Paul Seesequasis' Indigenous Archival Photo Project.

LISTEN | Curator Elizabeth Scott speaks about the Whitecap Dakota First Nation exhibit:

The relationship between the WDM and the First Nation dates back decades.

In the 1950s, the museum's first curator, George Shepherd, became friends with then Chief Harry Littlecrow to start Pion-Era, an exhibit in which Indigenous peoples could share their stories from their point of view. This project lasted more than 20 years before it faded. 

Whitecap Dakota First Nations elders Naomi Buffalo, Cecelia Royal, Malvina Eagle and Grace Buffalo visit the artifact storage areas at the WDM corporate office with curator Elizabeth Scott in 2019. Elders brought their own beadwork pieces to compare patterns and styles with the artifacts. (Submitted by Stephanie Danyluk and Whitecap Dakota First Nations)

Curator Elizabeth Scott stumbled on several photographs from the Pion-Era days in 2016. She discovered more pictures in the Saskatchewan Provincial Archives and the City of Saskatoon Archives over the next few years. Eventually there were nearly 100 photos, but she couldn't identify many of the people in the pictures.

In August 2021, the museum invited elders and community members of Whitecap Dakota First Nation to see if they could help figure out who was in the photos.

"Some of them were saying: 'I remember this, and this is my grandma. And, you know, this is grandpa Harry.' And so yeah, it was, it was incredible. And the memories were just so vivid, and so fondly remembered," Scott said.

That's where the photo naming project came in.

The WDM is leading the way in doing reconciliation work with Whitecap Dakota First Nation through collaboration and cultural sensitivity, according to Stephanie Danyluk, who is a co-curator of the project as part of her past work with WDFN, and is currently the reconciliation manager with the Canada Museum Association (CMA), a non-profit organization that promotes museums. 

Listening to the community

"The first step to reconciliation was an indication of the willingness or a desire to reconcile or foster reconciliation by the WDM and then from there, they were really good at assessing what the community wanted and needed," she said.

"They were making sure that the community was an equal partner in all decisions, always listening to elders, checking in with various bits of the community and making sure that they're getting it right."

Whitecap Dakota First Nation Chief Bear, noted that Dakota means "ally" and said the partnership with the museum is alive and well.

"It's great to see that the WDM is reaching out to all our nations who can collaborate with them to create an exhibit, and we look forward to sharing that with the public as well," he said.

"We need more and more collaboration, more partnerships like this. Ones that we formed and I think you're seeing more of them." 


  • A previous version of this story stated this exhibit is part of the Library and Archives Canada photo naming project. This exhibit does not contain any Library and Archives Canada photos but is inspired by similar projects.
    Feb 24, 2022 2:32 PM CT