The Manitoba Museum opened two new permanent exhibits within the Parklands Mixed Woods Gallery, We Are All Treaty People and The Berens Family Collection.
The opening on Wed. Aug. 12 of We Are All Treaty People marks the first time all Manitoba Treaty medals will be presented as a group at The Manitoba Museum.
In 2014, five medals were presented as part of a temporary exhibit by the same name while this new permanent installation in the Parklands Gallery features eight medals representing Treaties 1 to 6 and 10 (there are two different Treaty 1 medals).
Each of the Treaty medals or documents verifying Royal contractual obligation have been matched with pipes and pipe bags signifying the First Nations’ commitment to the Treaty as a sacred undertaking meant to last forever.
“It is unusual for a museum to display sacred artifacts like these pipes and pipe bags, but without them we would have failed to represent First Nations agency and understandings,” says Dr. Maureen Matthews, the Museum’s Curator of Native Ethnology,who is responsible for this exhibit.
“We have collaborated with Treaty Relations Commission, consulted with the AMC Elders Council and feasted the artifacts in advance of this exhibit. The beaded pipe bags also bring women into the story of Treaties and we have built on that theme with two art works by Pat Ningewance Nadeau which illustrate First Nations’ perspectives on power relations and the ordering of the world,” Matthews says.
We Are All Treaty People uses historic photographs to take viewers back to the moment when Treaties were being negotiated and reminds us of the generous spirit of our First Nations hosts which animated the Treaty process.
One of the photos, an original print from the 1870’s, is of Chief William Mann, who signed Treaty One on behalf of the people living at Fort Alexander, now Sagkeeng First Nation, and kept in the Mann family until this year.
The Berens Family Collection Exhibit
Dr. Maureen Matthews has also created a personal connection to Treaty No. 5 through the story of William Berens whose father, Chief Jacob Berens, was the first Treaty Chief for Berens River. The addition of the Collection to the Parklands Gallery greatly enhances the Museum’s ability to relate the story of Manitoba Treaties to visitors.
The Berens Family Collection came to the museum via Bill Berens, the great-great-grandson of Chief William Berens. Through Bill Berens the Museum acquired two coats, a pair of pants and two Treaty medals which were initially displayed in 2012 as part of a temporary exhibit by the same name.
Also on display, the Museum has borrowed portraits of William Berens and Jacob Berens by Marion Nelson Hooker and are grateful to the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Archives of Manitoba for their cooperation in providing long-term loan of the paintings to the Museum and bringing the paintings, the coats and the medals together.
Another remarkable item in the updated exhibit is a photograph of William Berens that was taken in the 1930s by the American anthropologist A. Irving Hallowell who was known by Chief William Berens as “Pete.”
Hallowell and William Berens worked together for a decade and Hallowell’s photographs of Berens are among the 900 photographs Hallowell took in the course of his fieldwork on the Berens River.
Hallowell valued his friendship with William Berens and said of him that he was “my interpreter, guide, and virtual collaborator, whose genial companionship in camp and canoe, in fair weather and foul, never failed to enliven my task.” (Berens 2009:9)
The Honourable Greg Selinger, Premier of Manitoba, who attended the opening event, was happy to see a focus on the historical contributions of Manitoba First Nations leaders.
“By including the Berens family’s collection as part of the We Are All Treaty People exhibit, the Manitoba Museum is ensuring this family’s contribution and their history in our province is not forgotten,” says Premier Selinger.
“We are so thankful to The Manitoba Museum for their willingness to engage our Elders in the process of sharing such important and sacred Treaty artificts,” says James Wilson, Commissioner of the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba (TRCM).
“We are confident the permanent exhibits will help build bridges and strengthen relationships between First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities through a greater understanding of the Treaty making process.”
Aboriginal Scholar in Residence
The Museum also announced a new Aboriginal Scholar in Residence program, underscoring the Museum’s commitment to engaging First Nations, Métis and Inuit people in the Museum and developing collaborative representations of First Nations, Métis and Inuit culture and history.
Made available through The Winnipeg Foundation’s Directed Gifts Program, the Museum will initiate an annual internship opportunity for up to two First Nations, Métis or Inuit students.
“The Winnipeg Foundation, through the generosity of our donors, is pleased to support this exciting opportunity from which our entire community will benefit. The Aboriginal Scholar in Residence program will engage Indigenous students in important work that will enrich the Manitoba Museum’s outreach to our city and province,” says Rick Frost, CEO of The Winnipeg Foundation.
The students must be at a senior undergraduate or graduate level and associated with a Manitoba university (Universities of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Brandon, and the North) and following a relevant course of study.
Students and professors (as student sponsors) would be able to apply or be referred throughout the year (with annual selections made in September).
The relevant course of study would include students who are studying Aboriginal questions for which artifacts at The Manitoba Museum can provide answers.
The intern would work with the Museum’s Dr. Maureen Matthews for a four to six month period. Full details on the criteria and details on how to apply are available at manitobamuseum.ca.
Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Manitoba Museum and Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba
Guests attending the opening of the Treaty Medals Exhibit on Wednesday morning at the Museum also witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba and The Manitoba Museum.
The Objectives of the three-year (renewable) Memorandum of Understanding are to:
- Share research and cooperate on exhibition projects intended to educate the Manitoba public and explore issues related to Treaties in Manitoba;
- Share promotion and cooperate on outreach opportunities to maximize First Nations participation and attendance at the organizations’ exhibitions and events; and
- Share responsibility for the appropriate use of sacred artifacts and cooperate to ensure their respectful inclusion in telling the story of the Treaties and those who negotiated them.
“Today’s announcements mark a wonderful day for the Museum,” says Manitoba Museum Executive Director, Claudette Leclerc.
“We are delighted to be able to display all eight Treaty medals for the first time in Manitoba’s history as well as to announce two new important community partnerships. We hope that as we foster ongoing relationships with the Aboriginal community, their voices and stories will be brought forward for all Manitobans,” Leclerc says.
Manitoba Treaty medals
- Treaty 1 (1871): this medal was the first Treaty medal issued, it was not well-received by the communities due to its small size and lackluster design. In fact, it was not designed specifically for the treaties, but rather a medal they had in stock (and resembled those issued for agricultural fairs).
- Treaty 2 (1872): Responding to issues from the first medal (described above), they issued a much larger medal in silver plated copper for Treaties 1 and 2. It looked impressive until the silver wore off and the copper showed through.
- Treaty 1 (1873): In response to issues with the large medal, the government responded with smaller medals in pure silver and re-issued these new designs to Treaties 1 and 2.
- Treaty 3 (1873): The success of the pure silver medal continued as it was issued for all later treaties.
- Treaty 4 (1874); Treaty 5 (1875): pure silver medals
- Treaty 6 (1876): pure silver medal
- Treaty 10 (1906): This cast bronze medal differs from all others in the case as the reverse has King Edward VII rather than Queen Victoria. Treaty 10 is mostly in Saskatchewan but two communities in northern Manitoba signed, Barren Lands and Northlands.
These projects would not have been possible without broad community support including the Province of Manitoba, Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba, Association of Manitoba, Chiefs, Elders Council, Archives of Manitoba, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, The Manitoba Museum Foundation, The Winnipeg Foundation Anonymous Fund, Parks Canada, and several private donors including Ian Laing.