Connecting with the Aboriginal Community

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

From March 5 to7, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights facilitated three focus groups with Winnipeg’s Aboriginal community. This focus group is an example of one of the many ongoing consultations with different stakeholders throughout the aboriginal community. These are important voices that need to be heard, and will continue to be heard. 

Elders David Courchene and Harry Bone, who have both worked with the Museum in an advisory capacity over the past three years, started each day in ceremony and prayer. The power of ceremony connects us to the spirit. It encourages us to speak from the heart, and to embrace the voices of our ancestors. It was a beautiful way to start each day.

The objective of the focus groups was to discuss how the Museum can be responsive to the needs of the Aboriginal community. In particular, one of the galleries in the Museum will tell the story of how Canada’s Indigenous peoples view human rights. This area includes a circular theatre made of curved wood slats. The proposal is to have Aboriginal peoples from across Canada participate in an ongoing exhibition program that sees indigenous expressions reflected on these slats in an artistic manner. We took this idea to the focus group participants to see what they thought.


 Students from Gordon Bell High School

Students from Gordon Bell High School participate in an icebreaker activity called “Helium Stick”. While always touching the stick from the bottom, participants must lower the stick to the ground.


The first day involved Aboriginal youth from Gordon Bell High School in Winnipeg. The afternoon dialogue session was led by Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, local educator, writer, and community leader. Students were challenged to reflect on who they are and to turn those concepts into an artistic painting or drawing that they might like to see on the exterior of the circle theatre.

The second day involved local artists and the third day included executives and educators of various Aboriginal organizations. The dialogue session for these two days was facilitated by Rosanna Deerchild, freelance journalist and poet. 

Over the course of the three days, participants provided excellent feedback, which we can now use to both challenge and support the decisions that need to be made.

One participant summed up their experience as, “I would hope that what we said will be the start of an ongoing statement, within the Museum, of indigenous experiences, in close participation and cooperation with Aboriginal people.” 

The dialogue will continue. A report will be prepared and provided to all participants to make sure their opinions were captured, and to solicit more feedback. We will also be considering and implementing other methods of communication to keep the conversation going with the Aboriginal community. Our goal is to develop ongoing programs for the Museum that are fully participatory and provide a meaningful museum experience. 

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