By Leslie Knibbs
BLIND RIVER—On June 3, the Timber Village Museum in Blind River celebrated its 50th birthday with a tour of the newly renovated museum and grand re-opening of the Heritage Gallery.
A group of Elders from Serpent River brought First Nation history and culture to the celebration.
The day was organized in part by Janice Gamble, who in 2013, compiled and authored the book “Connected to the Land: Stories from the Serpent’s Band”. The book, available at the celebration, consists of “a collection of personal stories and a smattering of research from Serpent River First Nation, including maps, family trees, old photos, government documents and a historical timeline stretching from 900-2008.”
The SRFN Elder Tea group collaborated for over 10 years to compile the history included in the stories.
Festivities began with an opening prayer from Elder Willy Pine of Mississauga First Nation in the newly renovated art gallery within the museum. Following the prayer, Mistress of Ceremony introduced special guests Chief Reg Niganobe and Blind River Mayor Sue Jensen. Each addressed the many people attending before a ribbon cutting ceremony. Music was provided by Waasnode Kwe Gam Jig Drum from Mississauga First Nation.
“A lot of [the celebration] was the idea of story sharing and to acknowledge the history of the area goes back further than Blind River,” stated Chief Niganobe, adding that this also included Mississauga First Nation and its history which was evident through the Elders’ presentations and stories.
“Working with Blind River is good,” continued Chief Niganobe. “We are working with and collaborating with the town on reconciliation issues.”
One example of this collaboration took place with the renaming of an original road in Blind River from the old sawmill to the community of Mississauga First Nation. Prior to 2016, the road was named Colonization Road. Chief Niganobe, representing Mississauga First Nation, approached Blind River about two years ago regarding changing the name.
“There was no hesitation from the town,” recalled Chief Niganobe. “They agreed on the need for a name change immediately.”
On June 5, a new sign reading Youngfox Road, in honour of renowned First Nation artist Cecil Youngfox, replaced the old sign.
During the afternoon, Elders from Serpent River First Nation (SRFN) gave presentations on their history on the North Shore. Elders presenting included Orville Commanda, Joyce Dillon, and Yvonne Meawasige. Dillon, a medicine person, presented on traditional medicines and their uses. Many of those present sampled her teas. Meawasige told stories of her experiences and delighted people with her handcrafted original story book, “The Serpent River People.”
Elder Orville Commanda recalled and shared exciting accounts of his adventures trapping in the north. Like his father before him, Commanda spent a good part of his life trapping. With tales like when he took a short-cut and ended up falling through the river ice on one particular day caught everyone’s attention. Commanda had decided to take the shorter way back to his camp by cutting across a frozen river—a big mistake he realized in short order. Fortunately, he was able to grab onto a fallen tree reaching into the river and make his way to shore; ironically the tree had been felled by beavers. Now that is remarkable, since most of his time was spent trapping beavers—in the beginning for the pelts, when nearing the closing stages of his days in the bush, he trapped ‘nuisance’ beaver for companies such as Bell Canada. Demonstrating a clear respect for nature, Commanda’s stories were both fascinating and informative, enjoyed by all.
The First Nation’s connection to the celebration was underscored with a tour of the renovated art gallery featuring paintings by Cecil Youngfox. The gallery permits visitors to wander freely in an uncluttered space where world class Indigenous art is now on display.
The newly reopened gallery showcased world class art by deceased artist Cecil Youngfox. His paintings are displayed in private and public collections worldwide. Some pieces on display are on loan to the art gallery from the Youngfox family. Youngfox is known globally for “his vivid, sensitive images of Native cultural traditions.”
The Youngfox Retrospective covers 1973 to 1984; born in Blind River to parents of Ojibway and Métis background, the artist received many tributes including the Aboriginal Order of Canada. The exhibit will run until June 23, 2017.
The Thinking Rock Community Arts group had a display giving advance notice of their upcoming play “The River Speaks.” Performances take place at the Mississauga First Nation Pow Wow ground from September 6-9 and again from September 13-16.
“This September, community participants of all ages will bring our shared stories to life with a magical performance at the MFN Pow Wow grounds.”