On Friday evening the Prince Albert Historical Society celebrated the opening of the “Kistapinânihk/Omaniciye Makoca/Tł’ogh tëlë/The Gathering Place” exhibit. The opening was the culmination of five years of work. It celebrates the Indigenous history of Prince Albert.
Michelle Taylor, curator for the Prince Albert Historical Society, said she was happy to see the exhibit come to fruition.
“It just makes my heart happy today to have it completed so that we can move on to the next step at the Museum,” Taylor said.
The name reflects the Cree, Métis, Dakota and Dene words for the Prince Albert area, which has traditionally been an area of peace, trade and marriage.
Taylor said the most important aspects are complete, but they still plan to add to it in the days ahead.
“My time-sensitive work in that Kistapinanihk display is finished, but of course we will continue expanding it and updating it because we do still have more work in our tech department to add in. That includes script documents, individual photos, and then other documents for each of the groups.”
The Honour Song and Victory Song were performed by Iron Swing Singers from Sturgeon Lake. Taylor served as host and emcee of the event, something she said it was out of her comfort zone during her introduction.
Wahpeton Dakota Nation elder Denise Tacan gave the prayer before and after the opening and provided translation for the Dakota panels in the exhibit.
A large group of knowledge keepers guided museum staff in creating the exhibit. Knowledge keepers Leo Omani, Willie Ermine, Leah Dorion, Curtis Breaton and Joanna McKay—who Taylor called the heart of the Indigenous Knowledge Keepers—were in attendance.
“With this exhibit, we want to share the history of the gathering place and create a new gathering place where residents, visitors and our youth can gain an understanding of our community’s larger history,” Taylor said in her opening speech. “This exhibit features 10,000 years of history to bring us to a stopping place in 1905 just one year after Prince Albert became a city.”
Friday’s opening drew a large crowd to the museum. Taylor said she was encouraged by the number of visitors.
“A lot of our knowledge keepers that are not here tonight do have to travel and so it is just nice to see the ones that are close to be so involved,” she said. “I am just so pleased that we had such a turnout. There are individuals here that I don’t know so there are members of the public and people who the knowledge keepers felt that we needed here tonight. It’s marvellous to have the support of the community in this project.”
Taylor added that they have barely scratched the surface of what the museum can do to educate people about how Indigenous people influenced Prince Albert’s development.
“We really wanted to show the importance of the Indigenous community in the creation of Prince Albert because without our Indigenous friends Prince Albert wouldn’t have existed,” she said. “It’s really important that we show the history of those who helped make the city.”
She said they focused their efforts on what the Knowledge Keepers thought was important.
They hope to expand beyond this project into other museums in the Historical Society.
“So outside of the Kistapinanihk we will just include Indigenous history into the rest of the museums so they become interwoven in Prince Albert’s history,” she said.
“If this took us five years, I can see that this is a lifetime of work for the Historical Society and the knowledge keepers to just make aware the Indigenous history in Prince Albert.”
According to Taylor, the idea started in 2016 or 2017 when Omani was asked to join in a Culture Days event at the Museum. Taylor and Omani worked to find the grants from the Northern Lights Community Development Corporation to get the project started. Omani found the knowledge keepers who participated in the project and guided it through the first months.
The project hit the ground running in 2018 once the Métis knowledge keepers were found. The Saskatchewan Arts Board Arts in Communities grant and the City of Prince Albert Public Art Fund helped fund the initial mural pieces.
Murals were completed in April 2019 and the work was recognized with a Museums of Saskatchewan Institutional Award of Merit and an English finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Excellence in Community Programming.
The murals were designed by artists Dorion and Kevin Pee-Ace and painted with assistance from the community. According to the museum, about 250 people, including students from Princess Margaret elementary school, assisted in the creation of the murals.
They were also awarded a large grant from the National Indian Brotherhood to continue the work in 2021 after COVID-19 slowed the progress in 2020. Lindsay Sorell was then hired as a researcher to develop the information panels on the project in 2021.
Since then they have worked to develop an exhibit that highlights the First Nations and Métis communities in the development of Prince Albert
Métis Knowledge Keeper Joanna McKay spoke on behalf of the Knowledge Keepers on what the journey to the creation of the exhibit was like. All of the Knowledge Keepers names are on a wall in the exhibit.
McKay said their intention was to provide more opportunities for residents to understand Indigenous history of this place. Like Taylor, she was pleased with the opening crowd.
“It’s really key and important that we know our history and we know the history of the places that we live and as a result it makes you stronger and helps you to belong,” she said. “That’s a big part of it, and so much of the stories are so beautiful. For me anyway, it helped me to connect in meaningful ways with my ancestors and with our relations with all of the other families in this area.”
McKay traces her family’s history to the group involved with James Isbister.
Historical Society President Fred Payton spoke about the importance of the exhibit before a final prayer by Tachan. Payton thanked Connie Gerwing of the board of directors for her passion on the project to drive the project for the board.
To open the exhibit Taylor, Omani and Dorion dropped a Métis sash and Payton declared the exhibit open.
This is just the beginning as the society wants to spread the ideas out to the community.
“We have so many ideas for future events,” Taylor said. “This is very much the starting point to bring Indigenous history to schools (and) to Seniors residences. We are trying to develop partnerships with SUNTEP to develop educational suitcases so that we can take them out to the schools and just work alongside the schools of not only Prince Albert, but also outside communities too.”
“Kistapinanihk is a huge area,” she added.
The museum is open during the week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Changes to those ours will be listed on the organization’s Facebook page, or on the City of Prince Albert website.