By Mark Forsythe
Loki the Magpie is a tad lonely. He’s accustomed to swapping tales with visitors to the animal biome at the Exploration Place Museum and Science Centre in Prince George, but when the facility was forced to close during the COVID-19 pandemic, things suddenly got a lot quieter.
Loki thrives on interaction with people and is known to quote back phrases or summon his own, like, “Hey you, come here!” The bird enjoys being at the centre of attention, and like everyone else at Exploration Place, is keen to greet more humans.
During the pandemic closure, Exploration Place was able to undertake major reconstruction of gallery spaces and curate new exhibits. Staff have also collaborated with the Maiyoo Keyoh Society to help repatriate a headdress that belonged to a hereditary chief of the Susk’uz Whut’en, George A’Huille.
They partneredwith the Lheidli T’enneh to establish a new free-standing childcare centre in Lheidli T’enneh Park, home to Exploration Place. The Lheidli T’enneh occupied a village here for some 9,000 years, until they were expelled by settlers. (Lheidli T’enneh means “the people who live where the two rivers flow together.”)
Exploration Place curator Alyssa Leier says the new childcare centre will “focus on Indigenous ways of knowing and will be unlike anything in Prince George.” It will bring 75 new spaces to the city; programming will emphasize language, culture, and Elder involvement.
This evolving relationship dovetails with a commitment to collaborate more directly with First Peoples and Knowledge Keepers with a hope to build trust and understanding. The repatriated headdress is a good illustration.
Jim Munroe, president of the Maiyoo Keyoh Society, stumbled across an online description of the headdress in the permanent collection of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) while researching a land title case. Jim realized it connected directly to his wife’s family. Petra Munroe is Hereditary Chief of the Maiyoo Keyoh and the headdress (made from her ancestors’ hair) was worn by her great-great-grandfather some 140 years ago.
A missionary, Father Adrian-Gabriel Morice, gave it to the Museum of Archaeology in 1893 and it has been at ROM since 1912. The family approached Exploration Place for assistance, applied for a provincial Repatriation Grant through the BC Museums Association, and travelled to Toronto to view the head-dress on display beside one worn by Chief Sitting Bull. Now it’s coming home.
Chief Petra Munroe told CBC Radio: “The headdress is so important to tell the story of where we came from.” Since Exploration Place is a Class A facility and a designated repository it can safely hold the headdress on the family’s behalf or until they are able to create an appropriate space for it. “It’s up to the family,” says curator Alyssa Leier. Plans are in the works for a ceremonial welcome this fall when it goes on display. “[We want] to show other nations that this is possible. If we could do it, they could do it,” says Chief Munroe.
In 2017, the Exploration Place Museum and Science Centre and the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation received a Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Community Programming for a new permanent gallery, Hodul’eh-a: A Place of Learning. It features a pit house entryway, a new cottonwood dugout canoe (the first built in more than 100 years), photos, artifacts, and a central hearth. The gallery space has become very popular and is used for school and community programs.
CEO Tracy Calogheros and curator Alyssa Leier commented in BC Studies: “The award celebrates a new gallery in the Exploration Place but it also recognizes a shift in the way a regional museum thinks and in how it works with and represents the First Nation in whose territory it is located.”
This marked an important change in how stories are told at Exploration Place. “The exhibitions did not represent Lheidli T’enneh culture or portray that nation’s resiliency and determined efforts to keep its culture alive in the face of colonial oppression and loss of lands and resources. The museum was missing valuable insight and a large piece of our region’s history.”
What’s curator Alyssa Leier looking forward to in a post-COVID-19 world? “Our reopening! The new childcare centre will make positive change for the community, and repatriations are really important as we try to decolonize these spaces.”
Loki the Magpie will have much to talk about.
The Exploration Place Museum and Science Centre is owned and operated by the Fraser-Fort George Museum Society. Visit www.theexplorationplace.com
Find out more about the headdress and its repatriation on this BCMA podcast: https://museum.bc.ca/brain/repatriation-discussion-with-maiyoo-keyoh-society/
To learn more about the Maiyoo Keyoh Society and to support their work, visit https://maiyookeyoh.com/
Listen to Chief Petra Munroe’s CBC Daybreak interview with Carolina de Ryk starting at 53:00: https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-109/clip/15845074