A museum in the Central Kootenay community of Creston, British Columbia, is being updated, with the help of local Grade 7 students and Indigenous elders.
As part of the project, students from Adam Robertson Elementary School teamed up with Ktunaxa Knowledge Keepers and Lower Kootenay Indian Band Elders to assess existing museum exhibits and add Indigenous perspectives to places where they were left out.
“It’s really easy for museums to fall into the trap of showing only one viewpoint, especially a small museum with a very small staff,” Tammy Bradford, director of the Creston Museum, told Global News.
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“We’re working really hard to change that, to get different perspectives, different people involved, and show those stories that I can’t tell personally.”
The initiative was the brainchild of seventh-grade teacher Danielle Sonntag, who said the students have become deeply invested in the project.
Student and Elder collaborations will be presented to the public throughout the summer and will form the basis of future ongoing updates to the exhibits.
Lower Kootenay band member Ki Louie said the collaboration has led to “incredible projects.”
The initiative gave a voice to Elders and knowledge keepers, while engaging the next generation of young people he described as receptive and sensitive to Indigenous history.
“It’s not just about what we think about Indigenous experiences. They were able to teach their prehistory, their current culture,” he said.
“When you look at all these exhibits, yes, there is an exhibit on residential schools because it is part of Canadian history. But there are also exhibits on hunting, science and traditional ecological knowledge, things like that – it has brought that knowledge and cultural teachings back to life.
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Sonntag gave the example of the museum’s trapping and agriculture exhibit, which originally focused exclusively on orchards and fruit exports. The student and elder contribution, she said, includes information on how the Ktunaxa traditionally farmed and practiced trapping.
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“It wasn’t just the stereotypical hunting and gathering, so we’re adding that knowledge,” she said.
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“I say add with emphasis, because we don’t want to change exhibits, we don’t erase history, we don’t get rid of something. We add a new perspective to it.
Grade 7 student Claire Wyett said her project involved providing information to an exhibit built around an old-fashioned pop bottle display. His group created a poster to accompany the exhibit with information about the detrimental effects of pop on indigenous communities with higher rates of diabetes.
“It was a little scary at first, knowing it was going to be here for a long time, and doing it felt like a lot, but it ended up being really fun and working with the alumni was awesome,” Wyett said.
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She said the pupils had heard ‘amazing stories’ from the elders and were surprised at some of the things they learned.
“Watching different things, and it was like, ‘Is this really going on? I thought that was in the past. But that’s really not the case,” she said.
“The last boarding school closed in the 90s. Fairly recently.
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Bradford said the concept of decolonization is being put into practice in museums across the country, but this is the first case she’s heard of young people collaborating with their local Indigenous community to move forward.
She said she would like to see it taken up in school districts across the province.
“It’s exciting for me to be able to welcome this kind of cross-cultural, multi-generational collaboration here at the museum,” she said.
“Our intention here at the museum is to take these ideas and, over the next few years, incorporate them into exhibits, so that students and elders shape what we present here.”
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