Alternative Canada

This morning Kevin and I visited the McCord Museum. We chose it, of all the various cultural destiations in Montréal, because it has an exhibit devoted to the local indigenous people. There are, we were told, 11 different cultural groups native to the region we know as Quebec. They range from the Huron or Wendat people, who are related to other Iroquoian-speaking peoples from around the Great Lakes region, to the Inuit.

What you hope for from such exhibitions is to to learn fascinating things about these indigienous cultures. What you get, most of the time, is shameful tales about how badly they have been treated by Europeans. You get stories of massacres, of populations decimated by Western diseases, of broken treaties, of stolen children, of horrendous suicide rates among indigenous youth. Quebec is no exception.

I will note that the exhibition in the McCord was less despressing that the equivalent one in the museum in Hobart, Tasmania. There we were greeted with sorry photographs of the last known members of the native communties, dating from decades ago. There are over 1.6 million indigenous people living in Canada. Some 800 of them participated in the creation of the exhibition in the McCord. Some of them are on video venting their frustration at how badly they are treated, still.

The final room of the exhibition encourages visitors to make a meaningful connection to indigenous people, and to start on the journey of becoming an ally. The way that they talked about listening to people, and being respectful of difference, was very similar to the things we say in the Diversity Trust training about becoming an ally to trans people. There’s a lesson in that, I suspect.

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