150+ years of Indigenous innovation


A landmark report on the tragic legacy of Canada’s Indian Residential School system has created new opportunities to showcase Indigenous innovation.

The 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Report called for concrete action to repair the relationship between Indigenous people and the rest of Canada. It included 94 Calls to Action to facilitate reconciliation and address the legacy of residential schools, including ones related to museums and archives.

“Museums have an ethical responsibility to foster national reconciliation, and not simply tell one party’s version of the past,” the report states.

More of that story will now be told when the revamped Canada Science and Technology Museum, which is located on unceded Algonquin territory, reopens this November. The new narrative of Canadian innovation will be expanded beyond the history of European science, nation building and modernization, which focused primarily on exploration, settlement, urbanization and industrialization.

: This tennis-racquet-like Huron snowshoe is from GV Snowshoes, an Indigenous-owned company based in Wendake, near Québec City. The 58-year-old company is the only manufacturer in the world to produce every type of snowshoe, from modern aluminum designs to the Huron model that was preferred by the first French settlers that came to New France in 1604. GV manufacturers everything in Quebec and exports globally. Its customers have included the Canadian, Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish and Russian armies. (Photo: Canada Science and Technology Museum)

“We started expanding this narrative about 15 years ago after the release of the Royal Commission report on Aboriginal Peoples, but began doing more after the release of the Truth and Reconciliation report,” says Bryan Dewalt, director of the Curatorial Division.

“It only makes sense. You can’t tell the history of Indigenous people in Canada without looking at technology because so much of the archeological record is fundamentally technological.”

The museum is working with Indigenous communities to also demonstrate how historical innovations influence current practice.

“Continuity is one of those really important words that we have to incorporate into the discourse about innovation. We want to show the continuity between past practice and current practice. Indigenous innovation isn’t something that is only in the past and then stopped after European contact,” says Dewalt.

After the Canada Science and Technology Museum reopens later this year, curators will turn their attention to including more Indigenous content in both the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum and the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

“We’ll be looking at how we do this not just in exhibitions but in collections, programming, etc.,” he adds. “We have a draft strategy and will be fleshing that out over the next 12 months.”


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