Former grand chief graduates from museum program

Former grand chief graduates from museum program
Gerry Antoine celebrates his graduation in Ottawa from a museum training program.Photo by Perry Zavitz.

A former Dehcho grand chief is looking forward to helping preserve Aboriginal heritage after graduating from a museum practices program run by the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa last month.

Gerry Antoine from the Liidlii Kue First Nation in Fort Simpson received his certificate from the Aboriginal Training Program in Museum Practices on Apr. 19, along with four other interns.

“It was great going back to school,” Antoine, 58, said. “It offered an incredible opportunity to affirm all those things the elders have taught me….Even though I went to residential school and was fostered out, I’ve been mentored by elders all my life and they provided traditional education, and that’s why I’ve always been interested in telling our history, our culture, our language, just telling it like it is.”

Antoine, who has spent the last three summers working as an interpreter at the Nahanni National Park Reserve, is already involved in community and cultural development in Fort Simpson. Armed with this new certificate, he hopes to work more extensively in those areas and with the Fort Simpson Historical Society, which is currently building a Heritage Centre.

Antoine heard about the program, which has had over 100 participants since beginning in 1993, through the grapevine and decided to apply early in 2012.

“I wanted to learn more and even now I’m talking about continuing to further my education and go for my degree,” he said.

He moved to the Ottawa area in September for the eight-month program that offers professional and technical training to First Nations, Métis and Inuit participants.

“That was the hardest part, leaving my family for that time, but you have to be open minded,” he said.

Antoine lived in the old part of Gatineau, Quebec while studying and picked up a number of French lessons, adding to the overall experience, he said.

“I had a French landlord and I was immersed in French, and that was really helpful because the museum worked in both French and English and I was able to see how different languages interpret artefacts.”

He took part in five practicums, each lasting four to five weeks, under different divisions at the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Canadian War Museum. His favourite was the last work placement in the “interpretation” section of the 2,000 square-metre exhibition space known as the First Peoples Hall.

“I was assigned to suggest live interpretative activities for the First Peoples Hall. One of the activities I suggested was the idea to host a welcoming ceremony. You need to have a live presence of the indigenous people and since the museum is in the Algonquin territory, it should be those people that are welcoming visitors into the space,” Antoine said. “The welcoming ceremony would be brief, I suggested, with live human interaction and people being invited into the hall.”

Antoine has already been asked to use his new skills at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, he said.

“In December, actually, I went there and was a sounding board, if you will, for the Dehcho part of their diorama exhibition series.”

Antoine arrived back in the NWT at the start of May and now plans to spend some time with his family.

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