Museum offers a glimpse into Abenaki way of life during the 19th century

A new building constructed outside of the Abenaki Museum in Odanak, Que., will represent a historical dwelling community members would have lived in during the 19th century.

Reconstruction of post-contact house style to be used for educational programs

Kwigw8mna provides visitors and users of the Abenaki Museum a perspective of a period of change for First Nations during the 19th century. (Abenaki Museum)

Kwigw8mna means "our house" in the Abenaki language, and it's the name of the new building constructed outside of the Abenaki Museum in Odanak, Que., to represent a historical dwelling community members would have lived in during the 19th century.

Several pre-colonial First Nations buildings have been constructed at museums across southern Quebec such as the Haudenosaunee longhouse at the Doulers-Tsiionhiakwatha Archaeological Site Interpretation Centre in Saint-Anicet or the Huron-Wendat longhouse in Wendake.

But Kwigw8mna (pronounced like Kwig-wom-na — the 8 represents a sound not found in English) represents a period of contact where Abenaki culture and European elements "mingled."

"Kwigw8mna is a unique version never presented or discussed in Quebec," said Vicky Desfossés-Bégin, communications officer at the Abenaki Museum.

"This perspective provides visitors and users with a crucial period of change for First Nations. A way of life where, despite colonial pressure, values and traditional knowledge persist."

Construction began on June 25 following funding from Heritage Canada. (Abenaki Museum)

Abenaki traditionally lived in dome-shaped or elongated wigwams, but during the 19th century, their homes were constructed out of larger spruce logs with a birch bark covering that was changed annually.

"It's reflecting a time when Abenaki were still building fairly traditional structures in terms of space and arrangement, but they were incorporating shapes and designs that were surrounding them and were being built by the French, English, and other Europeans," said Martin Lominy, educator and craftsman in archeology at Technologies Autochtones.

Funded by Canadian Heritage, the project received $49,425 though the Indigenous Heritage component of its Museums Assistance Program.

"Canadian Heritage is proud to support this project, as it promotes public awareness and understanding of the diverse cultures of Indigenous Peoples, and contributes to the process of reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples in Canada," said Daniel Savoie, spokesperson for Canadian Heritage.

Construction began on June 25 by the Montreal-based artifact reproduction company.

"This house was a big challenge because it's probably the only one of its kind in the province," said Lominy.

"When we looked for examples, we couldn't find any because the constructions being built at museums now are all pre-colonial. So, it's an attempt to recreate something of a later time."

The recreation sits atop an excavation site, according to archeologist Geneviève Treyvaud, one of the collaborators of the project. 

The excavations, which took place from 2010 to 2018, unearthed thousands of artifacts related to the Abenaki way of life, including traces of a fortified village built in 1704.

The construction work was carried out by Technologies Autochtones, a Montreal-based artifact reproduction company. (Abenaki Museum)

The space, which is expected to be completed next month, will be an opportunity to develop educational tools based on the data collected during the excavations and interpretations of the community's cultural history in an interactive way. 

The inside will include benches along the walls similar to pre-colonial structures, and will be furnished with reproductions of tools and objects. Outside, a garden of medicines will be planted.

Kwigw8mna will be open to visitors at the end of August. (Abenaki Museum)

"Children will have the opportunity to handle reproductions of tools and objects related to artifacts unearthed during archeological excavations," Desfossés-Bégin said.

"The museum will benefit from the project by strengthening traditions in the community and increasing the cultural notions of the Abenaki Nation."


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawà:ke, Que. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.