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Jasper’s outdoor Indigenous exhibit set opening early fall

The long-awaited Jasper Indigenous Exhibit will have its grand opening on the weekend of Sept. 7 and 8.
Under construction for years and under planning for years before that, the Indigenous Exhibit is in the home stretch before its grand opening in September. The centrepiece artwork was installed late last fall.

The long-awaited Jasper Indigenous Exhibit will have its grand opening on the weekend of Sept. 7 and 8.

Representatives from Jasper National Park set the date for this fall after more than three years of construction and a decade of consultations with several members of the Indigenous Exhibit Working Group to create an immersive, artistic and truth-telling space in the park.

“It took us 10 years to get to where we are. That's a long journey,” said Carol Wildcat of the Ermineskin Cree Nation.

The exhibit is meant to offer a space that tells the story of the forced removal of Indigenous people from the area now known as Jasper National Park as well as the impact that it continues to have on Indigenous communities.

The working group held more than 40 meetings over the years in order to come to an agreement on the design of the park, everything from the landscaping and pathways to the Indigenous artwork with the centrepiece of an eagle atop a globe.

The eagle is fairly synonymous with all First Nations and Indigenous peoples, Wildcat said.

“The Indigenous worldview will be promoted at the Exhibit. It’s all about the different languages and different timelines, some that have just arrived and some that have left. There are other Indigenous people coming in and learning their history. With this Exhibit, they can find out their ancestors were here and say, 'Yes, I am Indigenous, and I am proud, I have a language and I have territory.' It’s part of them,” said Elmer Rattlesnake, elder with Mountain Cree.

“It's important for all Nations with a history in Jasper National Park to be able to reclaim their connection to this place,” added Tracy Friedel, president of the Lac Ste. Anne Métis Community Association.

“National parks are lands that Indigenous peoples were removed from at some point in time, both in terms of use and occupation. The Indigenous Exhibit is symbolic and serves as an important aspect of restoring our connections to this land.”

In 1907, First Nations and Métis peoples were forcibly removed from their homes upon the creation of the Jasper Park Forest Reserve, later to become known as Jasper National Park.

The mountains remain sacred places to the Indigenous peoples.

“We come here to the mountains because we know there is good energy here and we do some of our ceremonies and harvesting over here in the mountains. We have our own stories, and we want to share them,” said Eugene Alexis, director of heritage and language with the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation.

Those stories and this permanent fixture in a prominent placement in the townsite are intended to help everyone on their paths to reconciliation.

“I want a non-Indigenous world to finally see my world, to come and recognize that my people have been here since time immemorial and all the changes we’ve had in history have affected us,” Wildcat said.

“Our connections are still here. I really want people to come and view Jasper in a different way.”

While there are more than 20 Indigenous groups that comprise the Jasper Indigenous Forum, Parks Canada gave its thanks to the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, Bighorn Chiniki Stoney Nation, Ermineskin Cree Nation, Lac Ste. Anne Métis Community Association, Métis Nation of British Columbia, Mountain Cree, and the Simpcw First Nation for their efforts to make the Indigenous Exhibit a reality.

“As part of Parks Canada’s commitment to honouring these connections and in partnership with members of the Jasper Indigenous Forum, the Jasper Indigenous Exhibit will create a space for Indigenous communities to share their connections with these lands through artwork and interpretive panels of their own design and following their own vision,” said Janelle Verbruggen, spokesperson for Jasper National Park.

The Indigenous Exhibit experienced a series of delays from its first scheduled opening in the summer of 2022 to the fall of 2023. Short construction seasons and quality-related concerns were previously cited as issues that beset the work that began in November 2021.

Parks Canada intends to remove the fencing once the final elements have been installed and the area has been deemed safe for people to walk around.

Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Ecology and Environment Reporter at the Fitzhugh Newspaper since July 2022 under Local Journalism Initiative funding provided by News Media Canada.
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