Visible from the lobby of the Lac-Brome Museum is a birchbark canoe with colourful illustrations of a bear, moose, rabbit and wolf sitting inside.
It's an installation by Abenaki and Wendat contemporary artist Christine Sioui-Wawanoloath named Les Voyageurs — and an example of how the museum is linking the past and present in its revised collection of Abenaki pieces.
Brome County, about 100 km southeast of Montreal, is a traditional territory of the Abenaki Nation. Curator Rachel Lambie says the museum has been working to better reflect the Indigenous history of the area.
The first order of business was to include a land acknowledgement. The choice of language was important — while a history museum focused on the past, Lambie said they wanted to make sure the present tense was used, too.
"Using the present tense is a way of talking about Indigenous communities without assuming that it's all done with and all gone," says Lambie, who took over as curator last year as the initiative was already underway.
"It's a way of, sort of, combatting the idea of colonialism."
In addition to the land acknowledgement and four contemporary pieces by Sioui-Wawanoloath on display, the museum also worked to verify that the items it has been collecting for over a century were actually from the area.
They sent their entire collection of Indigenous items to the archaeological bureau at the Musée des Abénakis in Odanak, Que., and reached out to the archaeological bureau of the Grand Council of the Waban-Aki Nation (GCNWA).
"It makes us feel good to be acknowledged, not only related to the connection to our territory, but also as a nation," says Suzie O'Bomsawin, assistant general director of the Abenaki Council of Odanak.
This work uncovered some new details about items in the collection — including a small metal hook that predates contact with settlers, said Lambie of one of the "coolest" findings.
They also found that some pieces were not local, but representative of the region.
O'Bomsawin believes the exhibition is a positive step forward in educating Quebecers about all the different nations of Indigenous people living here.
"I want them to become curious about us — and hopefully seeing them come visit the Abenaki museum located at Odanak," says O'Bomsawin.
"Come to our events, get to know us, see us as human beings with aspirations and dreams."
The Lac-Brome Museum is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located in Knowlton, Que. The exhibition Present and Past: The W8banaki presence in Brome County is running until April 2023.