“The youth don’t know their heritage, so we want a place for cultural programs,” said Margaret Fireman, director of the cultural department. “After the relocation, the elders didn’t know where their friends were. They lost each other. They started to meet at the commercial centre and told their stories there, in that wide open space. When we moved our office to the ground floor of the commercial centre, they came in there. They told stories, things I didn’t know. It was so rewarding! After we moved upstairs, none of them come up except if they have a appointment for something. We hardly saw them. They’re old. If we don’t get their knowledge, it will be lost.”
The new Chisasibi Heritage Centre (scheduled to begin operations in 2010 with the official opening in August 2011) will address this problem by providing a place where the elders can meet and pass on their knowledge. The centre was designed by local youth trained in architecture and is both culturally appropriate and meets museum standards. Their design is inspired by the traditional shaapuhtuwaan (longhouse) and, again reflecting tradition, faces east towards the rising sun.
The centre will be a place where treasured objects relating to our history and traditions can be held and used for educational purposes, and a place where many of our heritage activities can take place.
Gathering on Fort George Island
“It's hard not to be swept up in the emotional part of the relocation to Chisasibi,” said Amanda Sam. “To this day it is still emotional, still disruptive. There was a ripple effect after the move, even on people who were born on the mainland, because they were trying to figure out their place in the world. They had been uprooted. And their lands had been flooded.”
Fort George Island is a good place to get away from it all. To relax. The annual gathering, held over a period of a week in July to celebrate life on the island and some of our traditions, is an opportunity for everyone to return. Besides socializing, the gathering includes a number of activities, some cultural, some just plain fun. Traditional structures, like a tepee for cooking and a shaapuhtuwaan for feasts, are built. Slide-shows based photographs from the culture department's photo archives are presented. And concerts with local bands are held.
Map of Fort George
This project consists of mapping the residential and public buildings at Fort George at the time of the relocation. The elders are also interested in seeing an earlier version of the community, that is, of tracing the evolution of the community on the island.
Mapping the Cemeteries
“Burial sites are very important to the elders,” said Margaret Fireman. “They are sacred and should be treated with respect.” In conjunction with the Anglican Church, we have been mapping the Anglican cemetery on the island and in Chisasibi. We will also map the Roman Catholic cemetery on the island. There are two reasons for mapping the cemeteries on the island: First, the trees on the island were cut down after the relocation. Now, not only are the graves caving in, but, with the trees gone, people are having a hard time finding the graves of their relatives. Second, with the increased flow of water in the river, people fear erosion will result in the island disappearing. For these reasons we want a record a where our relatives' graves are.
Iiyiyuu Place Names Project
Participants are interviewed about the name and location of campsites, lakes, rivers and portages in the forty Chisasibi trap-lines. The information is recorded in Cree syllabics, then translated into English. After that verification is done by either the tallyman or an elder associated with each trap-line.
Burial Memorial Project
“We want the memorial at LG-2 to be more reflective of our feelings towards the area and towards the burial sites,” said Margaret Fireman. “They named the place after [Premier] Bourassa, but our footprints are all over the ground. In consideration of at least the Cox family, whose hunting territory this is, the name should be more appropriate. Not all the relevant people have been mentioned on the plaque so we are doing research about the “missing” names, and we're trying to get more information about the people whose names are included. We'd also like the memorial to include something about how the area looked before the flooding, as well as a bit about how people lived on the land.
“Also the whole place should be more welcoming. For the annual memorial service and visits – the elders like to come here to tell stories and talk about the place – there need to be benches. A canopy should cover the area to keep off the rain. And, somewhere close-by, there needs to be a table and a place for a fire so we can eat.”
Genealogy/Family History Project
To facilitate family history and genealogical research, a database is being developed using Anglican Church baptism, marriage and death records as well as records from the Roman Catholic mission at Fort George.
In addition to contemporary ones, our photograph collection consists of photos from different historic periods. The earliest date to 1867. Because we're trying to keep a continuous record, people from the cultural department attend various events to photograph them. If the elders are doing or making something at the elders camp, we photograph the event. If there is an activity at the memorial at LG-2, we send a photographer, and so on.
Photograph Archives Research
The photo archives technician scans, identifies and catalogues the photos. The technician is also working on a “bibliography” of elders, which includes pictures, a brief history and sound recordings.
The cultural department has organized a number of photograph exhibitions and slide-shows based on our collection of historic and contemporary photographs. “The older people love them, and they're important for the youth,” said Amanda Sam. “They're inspiring. It's nice to know how my people lived in the past.
Heritage Awareness Month
February is Heritage Awareness Month. Everyday throughout the month community members, students and teachers from James Bay Eeyou School, and elders come to our office to look at our photograph collection.
Archaeological Inventory on the North Shore of the LaGrande River and Evaluation of Big River Post:
Archaeological Evaluation of FlGr-3 and FlGr-13, and Excavation of Big River Post:
Archaeological Inventory in the Area of the Anglican Cemetery and the HBC Trading Post of Fort George: