Canadian Museum for Human Rights opens exhibit on Indian Act
'It's the government still having full control over their lands and ... their whole lives'
A new exhibit at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg looks at the effects the Indian Act has had on Indigenous Peoples.
"The Indian Act has tried to interfere in all of these different structures and communities for over a hundred years while Indigenous people and communities have had their own traditions and values related to land governance and education for thousands of years," said Karine Duhamel, the museum's curator for Indigenous rights.
Duhamel worked with First Nations Elders and advisors to create the exhibit.
The Indian Act was created in 1876, and governs matters related to status Indians and reserves.
Dana Soonias and Sharon McLeod are both CMHR advisors, and helped to co-curate the exhibit.
"In terms of identity, the Indian Act was the first piece of legislation in Canada that defined who Aboriginal people were," said McLeod.
"In modern times, it seems to be an archaic legislation based on race."
'It's the government still having full control'
Soonias said he hopes the exhibit sparks discussion about what the original intent of treaties were and what they are today.
"[The Indian Act] is definitely a restriction on our people, and it's the government still having full control over their lands and their resources and their elections, their whole lives and everything."
Although Soonias would like to see the Indian Act gone, he said he understands the complexity of removing the legislation.
"I think there is an opportunity for the government to make some changes that are real and to do that, you need to have the Indigenous people, our First Nations people, at the table.
"That's the only way it can happen — is to have a nation-to-nation type dialogue."
Displays include art
The exhibit features a set of replica handwritten 1880 amendments to the Indian Act. It also includes a wampum belt made by Onondaga artist Ken Maracle and a modern cradleboard made by Cree artist Marcia Chickeness.
The modern cradleboard is displayed beside a toy cradleboard from the late 1800s.
The cradleboard is meant to illustrate Indigenous education prior to Indigenous children being forced into residential schools via the Indian Act.
"So you have this historical example of children learning about their own traditions and values through something like a cradleboard and then a really modern and beautiful example of a cradle board," said Duhamel.
Also on display are feathers, including one that was owned by Elijah Harper. In 1990, Harper used an eagle feather as a symbol of strength when he blocked the Meech Lake Accord, citing a lack of First Nations consultation to the proposed constitutional amendments.
The exhibit opens Wednesday. Admission to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is free for Indigenous Peoples.