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To Honour and Respect: Gifts from the Michi Saagiig Women to the Prince of Wales, 1860

Blue, red and white porcupine quillwork on birchbark basket and lid.
RCT RCIN84335. Image courtesy Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III, 2023.

For the past few years, I have co-curated the To Honour and Respect project with Lori Beavis (Hiawatha). This is a reconnection project, bringing Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg from Hiawatha First Nation and other Mississauga Nations together with quilled makakoon (birchbark baskets) made by women at what is now Hiawatha as gifts for the Prince of Wales when he visited in 1860. Most unusually, the names of most of the makers of the makakoon are still linked to the baskets--inscribed and quilled on birch bark and paper tags and on some of the makakoon themselves.

The baskets have been cared for by Royal Collection Trust since they were taken back to England in the autumn of 1860, and displayed at Swiss Cottage on the Osborne House estate. His Majesty the King agreed to loan them, Peterborough Museum & Archives stepped up to be the Class A facility that we needed for the internatinal loan, Royal Collection Trust supported the loan and its reconnection activities and gave us a much longer loan than usual, and Lori and I spent the early pandemic months writing three major grants (Museums Assistance Program, Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council). All three grants were successful.

We welcomed the ancestors home in April 2023 for an extended stay until late November 2023. During that time, project members also ran workshops in basic porcupine quillwork, we collection a specialized Nishnaabemowin vocabulary in the local Michi Saagiig dialect, and we hosted lots of tours and school groups in the exhibition gallery.

The project logos bar indicates the complexity of this cross-cultural, international project. Everyone brought something crucial to the team that enabled things to happen in a good way. My role was ensuringing that expectations and necessary information were communicated across all parties as needed, particularly in working with colleagues at Royal Collection Trust. I also co-wrote the exhibition catalogue and text with Lori Beavis. In addition, I assisted with grant-writing, budget wrangling, taking minutes, managing Eventbrite listings, and scheduling work. As Lori is based in Montreal and wasn't able to be on site all the time, I managed project staff and ensured that events at PMA were staffed.

Overall, curation and project management were always Indigenous-led and responsive to the desires of Hiawatha First Nation citizens. My role was to bring international loans and reconnection experience to the project, and to assist in the grunt work of managing a big international exhibition. I'm honoured to have been part of the circle who made it possible for the ancestors to come home and do such powerful work.

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