In many ways, the Six Nations of today is the same as it was a century ago. In other ways, it’s drastically different.
The Woodland Cultural Centre takes a look at then versus now while examining the community, people, places and landscape that make Six Nations unique in its latest exhibit, Spirit of the Community: People and Neighbourhoods.
“Understanding the roots of a community is so important to understanding it as a whole,” said Woodland’s executive director Janis Monture. “I feel that we’ve been able to create a comprehensive portrait of Six Nations and its people.”
In one gallery, turn of the century sepia-toned photographs depict children dancing outside a schoolhouse, neighbours helping each other dig cars out from under mountains of snow and women hard at work on the farm.
In another, colourful photographs taken by Anthony Henhawk Jr., Patricia Hess, Brenda Mitten and Shelley Niro highlight Six Nations as it is today, with images of nature, powwows and development.
“I wanted people to see our community from the artists’ perspective,” said exhibit curator Naomi Johnson. “A lot of things that happen in the media and news, they see one angle of things and that becomes the popular view. When an artist is asked to show their community, they will show what they love.”
Hess’s photographs of a sickly owl on an overturned wheelbarrow, a handful of strawberries, a snapping turtle and a bridge across the Grand River showcase how the passage of time has had both a positive and negative impact on the community.
“The community is a lot larger and more business than agricultural now and development is happening and our environment is suffering,” she said. “But we are still continuing with our cultural ways. They are still with us. These images are part of our culture.”
Mitten’s work looks at things that have endured over the years, like powwows, the annual snowsnake competition and cultural pride.
“I think we are getting stronger,” Mitten said. “I think it shows through the Idle No More movement. People are getting more aware of who they are, where they come from and how they fit in. But it’s still a fight.”
Niro’s photographs focus on industry and how it’s effecting the environment.
“I think now we are living in a really complicated world and the photographs show that,” Niro said.
The exhibit stems from Woodland’s Ancestors in the Archives program, which invites community members to come out to the centre and view archival photographs as a way to date and name them. It’s popularity inspired Johnson to bring the photographs out for the whole community to see.
“For the Six Nations community there is a lot of nostalgia,” Johnson said. “If you’re not from Six Nations, (the exhibit) will give you a good idea of what we’re really about as a community.”
Spirit of Community runs until March 31 at Woodland Cultural Centre. Visit www.woodland-centre.on.ca for more information.