Hiding in Plain Sight: Discovering the Métis Nation in the Archival Records of Library and Archives Canada
- EFN Staff | February 16, 2018
This exhibition is currently on display at Round Prairie Library in Saskatoon until May 13, 2018 when it will transition to Batoche National Historic Site for the summer.
EFN: This exhibition has generated a lot of excitement among the Métis in Saskatoon. Can you tell us why you wanted it to come to Saskatoon?
Karon Shmon: I see the exhibition as affirming our place in history, not just our own history, but the history of Canada. I also wanted it here at Round Prairie Library, named after a place holding its own near and dear history as an historic Métis community just south of the city. The Saskatoon Public Library is to be commended for choosing to name it after Round Prairie and for agreeing to co-host the exhibition in partnership with the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan, and the Gabriel Dumont Institute. This exhibition is adding to peoples’ awareness of the Métis, our contributions to the country, and the history of our people, something that has been missing for so long in the mainstream narrative.
EFN: How did this exhibition come about?
Shmon: Library and Archives Canada (LAC) realized that many of their photographic holdings had missing or misinformation as a result of old descriptive practices, creating the impression that there were very few records pertaining to Canada’s second largest Aboriginal group, the Métis. To change this, LAC digitized a large number of those items and researched and updated what they knew would more clearly reflect Métis content. Then it was made into a travelling exhibition so more people could learn from it and enjoy it.
EFN: What do you want people who view the exhibition to gain from seeing it?
Shmon: To me, this is an act of reconciliation. It reminds me of what Gord Downie did with the Secret Path; to find a way to have Canadians become more aware of what has been missing in the history most often heard about. Downie was shocked that his education had so many gaps in it. He knew nothing about residential schools until adulthood. Downie recognized this bias by omission and wanted to do something about it. He did so with his “Secret Path” initiative, and brought attention to the residential schools which saw Indigenous children taken from their homes and raised elsewhere under what was for many, a cruel and abusive experience. At the very least, the residential schools took children away from parents and communities and made every attempt to change their languages, world views, and to break the links to their culture and heritage. Downie made this a well-known example of our missing history and also created an inspiring example of what to do about it.
EFN: How do you think people will be changed by the exhibition?
Shmon: When we look at the exhibition of photos we see parts of our history that may otherwise have stayed unknown or be regarded differently. I hope people are reminded that the last five letters in history are S-T-O-R-Y. Throughout time, we see those in power also in charge of the historical record, which is most often told from the perspective of those in power. Whether we are speaking about the Canada which formed in 1867 or the land and the people who lived here before this formal birthdate, we have huge holes our history. Until recently, even the last 30 years, only a non-Indigenous perspective has been taught, told, and deemed worth noting.
EFN: Do you expect viewers to share your perspective?
Shmon: No, but if some do, that’s progress. Those who are unsettled by the attention on the TRC Calls to Action, the 60s Scoop, and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls sometimes say we are leaning to a revisionist history. I looked up the definition and found this: In historiography, the term historical revisionism identifies the re-interpretation of the historical record. It usually means challenging the orthodox views held by professional scholars about a historical event, or introducing new evidence, or of restating the motivations and decisions of the participant people. Under this definition, revisionism is aimed at identifying gaps, adding information, and broadening perspectives. It is only then, when truth comes before reconciliation, that we as citizens can make an informed decision about whether our story, our history, is accurate or not.
EFN: Who should see this exhibition?
Shmon: This exhibition is really an invitation to the public to add to any efforts at reconciliation they are making already, or to start making the effort, by seeing one way to make things right. By thinking about how this might be true for other stories we can revise them so they are more truthful. Like Gord Downie, I am hopeful. Gord Downie’s words resonate deeply with me and help guide the work of the Gabriel Dumont Institute speak to the reasons we can celebrate exhibitions like this one.
Gord Downie told a Toronto audience, “Let’s not celebrate the last 150 years, let’s celebrate our next 150 years.” Let’s honour those words by making this exhibition part of that change.
Karon Shmon is Director of Publishing at the Gabriel Dumont Institute in Saskatoon. The Institute is a Métis post-secondary education and cultural organization serving the needs of the Métis of Saskatchewan.