Unfortunately, we were not able to schedule anything right away. Rob was in the process of retiring and I was having a baby. I reconnected with him a couple of weeks ago and finally, yesterday, I was able to go to the Parks Canada Lab here in Dartmouth.
I headed over after lunch and was surprised to discover the lab was only a few minutes from my home. Rob showed me around and I was impressed to see where the archaeologists and conservationists do their work. But I guess I should say where they USE to do their work. There have been a lot of funding cuts to Parks Canada lately and the emptiness of the building certainly reflected that.
I was in awe of the storage room...it was huge and had row upon row of movable shelving. Rob took me straight over to where the artifacts from Kejimkujik National Park are kept. The petroglyphs are carvings in the slate located along the lakes and waterways of the park and a lot of them are eroding. In an effort to preserve the carvings, Park staff have made tracings on clear plastic, chalk was used to photograph the lines, different paper copies have been made which are scaled to size, silicone molds have been made as well as copper castings.
I was the most impressed with the copper castings. They are a perfect copy of the rock face so every little line and scratch are captured the process. It's like looking at the rock face itself. I had been to Kejimkujik and seen some of the actual carvings, but this was the first time I'd been able to see castings of the images not available on the tour or in other locations. I've since gotten to know the images through my quillwork so it was pretty exciting. The first thing to strike me was the scale!!! Some of them are HUGE and for some reason I was not expecting that.
Rob walked me through the works of different people to capture the images. There was an old Smithsonian publication that contained clear gaps in the information being recorded. For instance, Mi'kmaq women wore peaked caps with ribbon applique and bead work, and many carvings depict these caps. The authors didn't know what they images were which makes it obvious that they were not dealing directly with Mi'kmaq people when conducting their research.
The Parks records contain the works of individuals who documented the petroglyphs along with their field notes. Rob explained the differences in the methodologies and what to be careful of if I was to use their images. For instance, one man sketched the petroglyphs would not give me the accuracy I'm looking for in my art.
The full collection was a little overwhelming. The images were so inspiring and I find myself wanting to make pieces that are true to size. The next step is to sort through the images, identify which ones I'd like to make and then hopefully go back to see the copper castings to ensure I'm as accurate as possible.
Rob also showed me other artifacts in the collection: there was pottery that was several thousand years old, spear points of all different types, and tools that were absolutely incredible. I can't begin to tell you what it feels like to hold things in my hands that were created by the ancestors so long ago. It was amazing to watch my son listen to Rob and try and grab what he could. He's only seven months old but it was amazing to think that he's learning about things already.
Unfortunately, I'm dealing with a relatively small window of opportunity if I want to expand my knowledge. The federal government has decided to close the lab and move the collection to Ottawa!!!! I was dumbfounded when I heard that. The reason I'm so concerned is that if the lab, which the public can access, is closed it's going to be EXTREMELY difficult to see any artifacts let alone the collection of petroglyphs. The carvings themselves are eroding and a lot of sights are either not open to the public or easily accessible. If people in Nova Scotia wish to learn about their history and culture they're not going to be able to do it at home.
So far, in an effort to expand my knowledge of quillwork I, along with my son, have been to the Nova Scotia museum to view their collection of quill boxes; it was really cool to put on the little white gloves and actually handle the pieces. I've been out to Kejimkujik National Park to see the petroglyphs carved in slate along the lakes. I've been to the DesBrisay museum in Bridgewater to see the famous quilled cradle made by Christina Morris. I've also viewed the collections in the various Mi'kmaq communities, such as that at the Glooscap Heritage Centre and the collection on display at the Confederacy of Mainland Mi'kmaq office in Millbrook, the collection at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre in Membertou, and the Heritage Park in Metepenagiag, New Brunswick.
What I've come to learn is that these fantastic collections are a compliment to the living culture/history of Mi'kmaq people. The most amazing experiences have come with all the people I've met, talked to and worked with who have tied the past to the present. In order to put these "things" in context, you need to see the land which inspired them and provided the resources to make them, you need to talk to the people who live on the land and share the knowledge which has been passed down to them about how to make them. It is the people and the land which breathe life into the collections. You can have one without the other, but you're losing out.
Now that I've been to the Parks Canada lab to view the petroglyphs I'm getting really worried about what is at stake by the moving the collection. When people see my work and I say it is a depiction of the petroglyphs, the most common response is "Where are they? Can I see them?" It's scary to think my response to this question may be, "well the park is closed for the season and there are no more Aboriginal liaison positions if you want someone with Parks Canada to speak with you....and if you want to see the documented collection you'll have to go to Ottawa."
Given that Canadians have been taught a history through a lens that did not recognize the rich Aboriginal history in Canada, it scares me that the ability to share and teach is going to be that much harder. By far, the largest collection of Mi'kmaq artifacts are held by the government. Yes, they may save a few million dollars by consolidating the Parks Collection in Ottawa, but I truly believe that Canadians will be missing out by moving them out of the territory which gave birth to them.
Here is the link to the story as reported by Global's Ross Lord: http://www.globalnational.com/budget+blues/6442667014/story.html
The following pictures of the Keji petroglyphs are of a peaked cap and Kulloo and hunter which were taken from the website http://www.muiniskw.org/pgHistory3b.htm, I met the author Jean when she was conducting the petroglyph tours at Keji.