CNE exhibit tells story of First Nations community through art and technology
'This kind of brings that old world into this new world,' exhibit organizer says
Not far from the roar of the midway, a special exhibit at the Canadian National Exhibition quietly combines art and technology to give visitors a sense of the history and culture of a First Nations community.
That community, the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, is known in Toronto because its traditional territory includes the city and land acknowledgements make reference to it.
"Because Toronto is such a diverse space, I think it's really super important that we tell the story and say the Indigenous people, the First Nations people, are still here," said Jai King-Green, a special events and culture unit assistant and a member of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.
King-Green helped put together the exhibit located in the Heritage Court of the Enercare Centre at the CNE, which runs until Sept. 5.
Organizers say the exhibit aims to create a new understanding of the community. It uses a mix of elements, including glass cases, which display artwork, crafts and photos of veterans, and educational information in the form of booklets, and holographic technology, which includes a camera that takes pictures and projects images onto a holographic display.
King-Green said the exhibit also uses storytelling and interactive experiences to teach outsiders about her community.
The Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation has a reserve near Hagersville, Ont., about 38 kilometres southwest of Hamilton. It has roughly 2,570 members, with close to two thirds living off reserve, according to its online community profile. The First Nation is part of the Ojibwe (Anishinaabe) Nation.
The online profile says the First Nation's traditional territory commences "at Long Point on Lake Erie," moving eastward along the shore of the lake to the Niagara River and on to Lake Ontario, "then northward along the shore of the lake to the River Rouge east of Toronto, then up that river ... to the head waters of the River Thames, then southward to Long Point, the place of the beginning."
While the exhibit presents a modern view of the First Nation, questions from visitors are still rooted in a lack of information, King-Green said. Those questions persist despite the CNE having an exhibit on the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation since 2018.
"We found, over the last couple of years being at the CNE, the questions don't change. And that's kind of profound," she said.
"If we're still getting the same kind of questions of like, 'Oh well, I didn't know native people were still here. Do you guys still live in teepees?' Then that means that there's either one, new people coming through, or our education system, or education systems, aren't working the way they're supposed to."
King-Green said sharing resources means her community is saying: "This is what actually happened, this is the truth, and now that you know, you know how to be a proper ally, you know how to interact and be around Indigenous people, and create space for us," she said.
The exhibit includes a table of animal pelts, including bear, mink, otter, skunk and raccoon, that visitors can touch. There are displays of traditional crafts, including leather mittens, beaded pendants and decorated boxes. There is a showcase of Indigenous veterans who fought for Canada in the War of 1812, the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War. And there is a table where visitors can use stencils to create pictures of moccasins.
As well, there is holographic technology from a company called ARHT Media that allows visitors to interact with prerecorded videos.
"When people think of Indigenous people, they think that we're archaic, right? This kind of brings that old world into this new world," King-Green said.
"We're here, we haven't gone anywhere, we're still living, we're modern human beings but we hold onto our culture and our history very closely, we're treaty holders. Come and learn about us," she said.
CNE wants First Nation to flourish, organizer says
The First Nation decided to upgrade and modernize its exhibit at the CNE. And this year, it's in a more prominent place.
King-Green said there is no question that CNE pays homage to the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.
"They work really well with us. They are very accommodating. The best part about working with the CNE is they want to see us flourish. They want to put our information out there and to tell the story of the land, the original people here," she said.
Darrell Brown, CEO of the Canadian National Exhibition Association, said the CNE is about agriculture, industry and innovation, but also culture and heritage.
"This is culture and heritage coming alive," he said. "The more that we can bring people in and have them interact, the better."
Brown said First Nations did not have a presence in the CNE in its early days, but that began to change in 2017, when Indigenous people were involved in official opening ceremonies.
"If you look back in the history of the CNE, you're not going to find much evidence of First Nations partnership," he said.
Larry O'Reilly, CEO of ARHT Media, said the holographic technology is helping to share Indigenous culture.
"We're thrilled," O'Reilly said. "I think the messaging that they want to share is really important and our technology allows them to do so in very engaging way."
O'Reilly said the Mississaugas are "using the latest technology to tell their stories, which are some of the oldest stories" in this geographical area.
Roma Mare, a member of the First Nation who lives in Mississauga and is a volunteer at the exhibit, said working at the fair has deepened her sense of pride in her culture.
"Before, I think I took it for granted. Right now, I'm actually really excited to be talking about it."