A collection of historical photographs currently on display at the Art Gallery of Swift Current gives a glimpse into the everyday life of First Nation and Métis communities.
The exhibition Turning the Lens: Indigenous Archive Photo Project features images from several photographic collections. It includes images from two distinct indigenous communities in southwest Saskatchewan – the Nekaneet Cree Nation of the Cypress Hills and the Métis settlement of Lac Pelletier.
The Art Gallery of Swift Current hosted a public reception for the exhibition on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 1. Guest curator Paul Seesequasis and Barb Parchman, the gallery’s operations coordinator, made a presentation about the exhibition.
“It’s really important, because it gives a reframing or positive perspective of indigenous communities within Canada,” Seesequasis said afterwards about the exhibition. “I think people read a lot of negative things and maybe had never been to a reserve or community. It humanizes the photos, it shows the strength of family, it gives a positive history of how communities in the hardest of times stay together. So if it opens people’s eyes, the exhibit is accomplishing what it’s meant to accomplish.”
The exhibition is an outcome of a social media project by Seesequasis, a Plains Cree writer, journalist and cultural activist based in Saskatoon.
He has been collecting archival photographs of life in First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities from the 1920s to the 1970s. He then starts a process of reclamation by sharing these images on social media to identify individuals, places, events and stories related to each photograph.
“Reclamation is an important part of the project,” he said. “A lot of these photos are from museums or archives. They’re no longer with the families. They’re no longer with the communities. … We have these photos now, we can post them on social media, we can put them in an exhibition, but the most important thing is that the families themselves see them. They get to name people in the photos. Maybe those people are their family, their ancestors, maybe there’s a story that goes along with those photos. For me it brings the photo back to life. Reclamation is a reconnection of that photo to family, to community, to the actual story that is behind that photo.”