Image: Woe to Those Who Remember From Whence They Came (detail), Kent Monkman, 2008, 72″ x 108″, Acrylic on canvas. View enlargement below.
KIINAWIN KAWINDOMOWIN STORY NATIONS:
A RESEARCH AND STORYTELLING COLLECTIVE
The stories of Canada’s founding and future have often drowned out those of Indigenous nations; through our presentation of a missionary’s diary, we hope to make visible and audible the stories of people that he met on Ojibwe land in 1898, with the help of people we met when visiting there in the twenty-first century.
Kiinawin Kawindomowin Story Nations is a digital storytelling collaboration based in Toronto, on the territory of the Huron-Wendat and Petun First Nations, the Seneca, and most recently, the Mississaugas of the Credit River. This land has long been governed by the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between the Iroquois Confederacy and Confederacy of the Ojibwe and allied nations to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. The website remediates the diary of a Toronto missionary-journalist named Frederick H. Du Vernet, who visited the Rainy River Ojibwe of Treaty 3 territory in the summer of 1898. Professor Pamela Klassen and a team of students from the University of Toronto work in consultation with staff, Elders, and community members of the Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre of the Rainy River First Nations, located in Northwestern Ontario. Together, we have developed a digital edition of Du Vernet’s diary that you can read and listen to. The diary, and now the website, documents Ojibwe responses to Christianity through multimedia storytelling that spans the early Canadian colonial expansion of Treaty 3 territory into the present.
Consulting the Community
Each time that the Story Nations Collective has shared versions of our website with Elders and community members, we have learned new ways of looking at the words that were written more than one hundred years ago by Du Vernet, an Anglican missionary from Toronto who knew very little about Ojibwe ceremony or history. Aware of the limitations of our own knowledge, visits to the Rainy River — Manidoo Ziibi in Anishinaabemowin — have been essential to our storytelling and research process. Along the way, we have been shown great hospitality by many people, especially Art Hunter, who first invited us to come to Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung in 2012. Elder and former Chief Willie Wilson has also welcomed us. He taught us that to share our stories, we needed to take the time to smudge by the river. He also taught us that a story without a joke is no story at all.
When Shishigo Gijig of Whitesand First Nation (and mother of team member Audrey Rochette) joined Story Nations as a consultant and Anishinaabemowin expert, she traveled with us to Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung and opened us up to new ways of walking the land and hearing the people. Together, we sat with Elder Dorothy Medicine who taught us that language itself carries a story. Willie Wilson, Dorothy Medicine, and Shishigo Gijig are excellent Anishinaabemowin speakers, who have worked tirelessly to preserve the stories, land, ceremonies, and language of their people. We are very grateful that they continue to share their stories with us.
Restorying Colonial and Missionary Archives
One of our ongoing concerns in this work has been the dangers inherent in circulating the offensive words of a Christian missionary, who saw his job as converting Ojibwe people to Christianity. When we first shared with community members our worries about this, Albert Hunter Jr., a former chief who is himself a wordsmith and poet (and Art’s brother), let us know that anything Du Vernet had to say was not anything they had not heard before. Du Vernet was “a man of his time” as Al Hunter put it, and it was no surprise that he used words like “heathen” to describe the Ojibwe women and men that he met.
It was a surprise, however, that Du Vernet also told stories that conveyed the depth of resistance to Canadian colonialism and Christian missions along the river in the decades before the forced amalgamation of the seven reserves into one. Thanks to our frank conversations with members of Rainy River First Nations, we understand Kiinawin Kawindomowin Story Nations to be a project that has to keep circulating in a cycle of stories told within relationships of respect, ceremony, and reciprocity.
Digital and Indigenous Modes of Storytelling
We are grateful to Kent Monkman for the permission to use his painting, Woe to those who Remember from Whence they Came, which depicts an oft-repeated story of Canadian colonialism: the illegal and forced removal of Indigenous peoples from their land. Kent Monkman’s granny, Carolyn Thomas Everet, lived at St. Peter’s Reserve, the same place where Du Vernet’s host Jeremiah Johnston — a Swampy Cree missionary — grew up (St. Peter’s is depicted on the left of the painting). In 1908, the people of St. Peter’s Reserve on the Red River were forced from their land in a “fraudulent surrender.” Just a few years later a similar injustice occurred on the Rainy River, when the Canadian and Ontario governments illegally amalgamated the territory of the Rainy River First Nations, forcing them into one reserve at Manitou Rapids in 1914–15.
My goal is to counter the one-sided version of art history that exalts European “discovery” of this continent and to celebrate and commemorate the indomitable spirit of Indigenous people … I hope my paintings will function as a critique of colonization, authorize Indigenous experience in art history, and excite people with the enduring power and possibility of history painting.
— Kent Monkman, on the “Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience” Exhibit, 2017.
As we learn from Kent Monkman’s work and our ongoing relationship with the people of Rainy River, stories can be told with more than words. Stories are lived experiences painted onto canvas, woven into baskets, beaded into belts, recorded and shared through digital files, over meals, in homes, and on the land. Stories are seen with our eyes, heard with our ears, told with the mouth, felt with the heart, hands, and mind. Framed by Digital Humanities and Indigenous methodologies, Kiinawin Kawindomowin Story Nations is a multimedia expression of Indigenous, missionary, and scholarly storytelling told through visual, oral, aural, and textual material created and produced by all members of the collective. Together, we restory colonial documents and missionary history in the effort to retell these narratives from a perspective that incorporates the community, their stories, their art, and their language as sources of education, creativity, and critique.
Kiinawin Kawindomowin Story Nations begins with a written story — the diary of an Anglican missionary, Frederick Du Vernet, who wrote about his encounter with the Anishinaabeg of Manidoo Ziibi, in 1898. Out of this archive and our many visits to Rainy River since 2014, the story of our research and recent conversations is told through various forms of media: blogs, videos, and photography. The site moves us through Du Vernet’s diary toward the various storytellers that work in and between Toronto and Rainy River to maintain this site and share knowledge, as researchers and friends. The stories we share focus primarily on the people and the media they use (such as land, water, radio waves, diaries, photography, and voice) to shape their relationships to one another. The power of their stories transforms our thinking.
Storytelling is our methodology.
Then and Now
Du Vernet’s 1898 diary records a time on the river before this illegal seizure of land, when places such as Little Forks, Hungry Hall, and Long Sault were vibrant sites of Ojibwe ceremony and community. At the turn of the twentieth century, logging and fishing, a gold rush, the building of a new railway, and government appeals for farmers to settle on the banks of the Rainy River all converged to radically transform life on what was now a watery border between Canada and the United States.
As an intergenerational and multi-perspectival project, Kiinawin Kawindomowin Story Nations turns to history to build new relationships between people living in Toronto and along the Rainy River today by re-telling the diary’s stories with respect for the people and places described in its pages. Thanks to the generous help of Elders and storytellers from Rainy River First Nations, as well staff from Kay-Nay-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre, Story Nations also includes stories about Manidoo Ziibi told today. These stories bring perspectives to the land, river, people, and spirits that both echo and contest the stories found in the diary of Frederick Du Vernet.
Please be in touch with the Story Nations Collective if you have any thoughts or suggestions for improvements or corrections to the site.
Kiinawin Kawindomowin Story Nations has depended on generous support from the following organizations: the Anneliese Maier Research Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation; the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada; the Religion and Diversity Project; the University of Toronto Excellence Award program; the Faculty of Arts & Science, University of Toronto; Information & Instructional Technology, Faculty of Arts & Science, University of Toronto; E.J. Pratt Library, Victoria College.
In addition, we would like to especially thank the following people for their guidance and support:
- Kelli Babcock, Digital Initiatives Librarian, Robarts Library
- Douglas Fox, EJ Pratt Library
- Sotira Chrisanthidis, Information and Instructional Technology, Faculty of Arts & Science
- Priya Murugaiah, Information and Instructional Technology, Faculty of Arts & Science
- Laurel Parson, General Synod Archivist, Anglican Church of Canada