A Tribute to Canada’s True North in The Netherlands
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending the official opening of the Canadian Inuit Art Exhibition, Canadese Inuit Kunst, at the Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden, The Netherlands.
I am currently on exchange at the University of Maastricht, also in The Netherlands, completing my Master’s degree in Global Health from McMaster. Two of my main interests are Aboriginal health and traditional healing.
As part of the program, I am preparing a literature review on the potential correlation between residential school trauma and onset of dementia in elderly Aboriginal persons in Canada. Also, in June, I will be travelling to Sydney, Australia to assist with gathering and analyzing qualitative research on conceptualizations of ageing and dementia among Australian Indigenous to complete my global health practicum degree requirement.
With an interest in Aboriginal culture and a lifelong participation in the arts, I was delighted to be invited to this special event; I happily embarked on a journey by train through the sunny Dutch countryside to see and learn about a piece of home.
Here I am (right) with Dr. Nynke dr Jong from the Department of Health Services Research at Maastricht University listening to Her Royal Highness Princess Margriet.
Guests from a manifold of backgrounds including students, professors, professionals and proponents of the arts, mingled, sipped wine and enjoyed canapés before the official opening and speeches from dignified guests.
The director of the museum Stijn Schoonderwoerd, the Ambassador of Canada to the Netherlands Sabine Nölke, the Arctic Ambassador of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs Kees Rade, as well as Her Royal Highness Princess Margriet and her husband Professor Mr. Pieter van Vollenhoven were in attendance. The “Canadian Princess” was born in Canada in and also spent her honeymoon in the Arctic so her ties to our nation are longstanding and profound. While her address to the crowd was in Dutch (a language I know very little of) it was obvious to me that she was humbled to be affiliated with such a beautiful and culturally-rich part of the world.
The exhibit included many artifacts from diverse Aboriginal populations around the world, for example in Mexico and Siberia, but the emphasis was on Inuit Canadian art.
The Inuit art collection was donated to the museum by a Dutch man named Hans van Berkel who spent over a year exploring our True North and learning about Inuit culture. Some artifacts were also loaned to the museum from Her Royal Highness Princess Margriet and her husband Professor Mr. Pieter van Vollenhoven’s personal collection. There were intricate soapstone tools and figurines, paintings, photographs as well as traditional clothing worn by the Inuit.
This exhibition is one way in which Canada’s heritage, culture and geographical beauty can be honoured and displayed as part of the larger 150th birthday celebration of our nation, Canada 150, which lasts all year. Two of the main themes of Canada 150, environment conservation and reconciliation, were central to all speeches given at the opening ceremony.
Nölke and Rade spoke passionately about the preservation of already dwindling arctic environments where many Aboriginal persons, especially Inuit in Canada, live. As such, environmental protection is integral to the preservation of Aboriginal culture and everyday life.
As emphasized, in our globalized world, the environment, and thus the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal persons, must be an international priority and collaborative effort.
Here is a photo of the Ambassador of Canada to the Netherlands Sabine Nölke addressing the audience.
The second theme of Canada 150 is directly related to Canada’s recent commitment to acknowledge and repair the damaged relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada published a report in 2015 publicly recounting, for the first time, the horrific history of Aboriginal persons in Canada.
The report tells us that with the objective of “[divesting] itself from legal and financial obligations to the Aboriginal people and [gaining] control over their land and resources”, the Canadian government effectively carried out a “cultural genocide” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 2015). This “genocide” began in the 1800s with a law confining Aboriginal persons to agriculturally-poor reserves and the mass-enrolment of children into residential schooling. The end of this horror, on paper anyhow, was the year 1990 when the last residential school closed. The impacts of this maltreatment and discrimination still exist today, but as this exhibit showed, the Inuit way of life, culture and belief system continue to persevere.
Of all the beautiful art I saw at the exhibit, I have chosen to share this painting of Inuit people:
This painting struck me because up until the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report in 2015, popular media was the public’s sole source of information on Aboriginal persons. The media has often portrayed, and in some cases, continues to portray, Aboriginal persons as “savages” or drunks. In contrast to these prejudices, this piece of art shows the humanness of the Inuit; there are three people, presumably a family with a young child, they are smiling and carrying tools to travel through the snow and hunt.
Upon studying this image, the viewer may assume alternative “truths” about the Inuit. For example, the Inuit are family-centered, resourceful and hard-working. It is my hope that Canada 150 will continue to challenge conventional beliefs about Canadian Aboriginal persons as this exhibition has done.
Finally, in the wake of Truth and Reconciliation, I have been reminded of how much we have to learn from our Aboriginal fellow-citizens: respect and sense of circularity to care for and preserve the environment, strength and community-identity to overcome adversity, and grace to forgive those who have wronged us.
Thank you so much to Dina Idriss-Wheeler from McMaster University for getting in touch and to the Embassy of Canada for inviting me. I look forward to continuing to celebrate our beautiful country and its people in 2017!
Laura JamiesonStudent Blog