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Muskoka Discovery Centre

Misko-Aki: Confluence of Cultures

Unique exhibit is curated by Indigenous communities

What is Misko-Aki? It’s an Indigenous Peoples’ word, meaning ‘red earth,’ and it’s the origin of what we now call Muskoka. “Misko-Aki: Confluence of Cultures” is also an exciting new exhibit, this summer at the newly expanded and revitalized Muskoka Discovery Centre (MDC), in Gravenhurst.

One of three new major exhibits encompassing The Muskoka Story, “Misko-Aki: Confluence of Cultures” focuses on the eight Indigenous communities — representing four cultures — that have a historical or current interest in the Muskoka region, spanning approximately 10,000-plus years before the arrival of Europeans.

The Indigenous communities include: Beausoleil Island First Nation; Chippewas of Rama First Nation; Moose Deer Point First Nation; Georgina Island First Nation; Huron Wendat First Nation; Moon River Métis; Wahta Mohawk First Nation; and Wasauksing First Nation. These communities represent four cultures: Anishnaabek; Haudenosaunee; Huron-Wendat; and Métis.

A new way to share in the life of Muskoka
Join us for a symbolic canoe ride through this landscape, through seven landings, where you will meet local Indigenous Peoples, who will share their perspectives of this place.

Experience their histories, traditions, and their ability to adapt, while keeping core cultural values intact.

Learn about the resilience of the people who have called this place home.

Discover the Dish with One Spoon — a powerful metaphor in which the dish represents land that one nation occupies and uses, and the spoon symbolizes the ability for people from other territories to eat from a common pot that feeds all — as long as balance is maintained.

Experience the symbolic flag display (in the atrium in the centre of the new hall) where the flags of Canada, the Province of Ontario, the District of Muskoka and the MDC fly alongside the flags of the eight Indigenous communities with historical connections to Muskoka in a dramatic demonstration of unity and a strong commitment to reconciliation.

First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples living in Canada belong to sovereign Indigenous nations, with their own systems of governance, justice, and self-determination, and many such nations have created their own flags. As just one example, consider the flag of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation, which features the “deer and the sun,” and its reference to Chief Yellowhead and a wampum talk he gave in 1840, at a council to renew the peace between the Haudenoseaunee Nation and Anishinaabek peoples.

“At this place our fathers hung up the Sun and said that the sun should be a witness to all what had been done, and that when any of their descendants saw the Sun, they might remember the acts of their forefathers.”

Our strategic goal, said Tim Johnson, Project Director, is “To weave and inculcate Indigenous culture and sustainability values into the fabric and identity of the Muskoka region.”

Johnson, an experienced education, museum, and arts executive, is director of Landscape of Nations 360 Indigenous Education Initiative and artistic director of The Great Niagara Escarpment Indigenous Cultural Map. He served more than 10 years as Associate Director for Museum Programs at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian and facilities in New York and Washington. A member of the Six Nations of the Grand River, Johnson is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Shaw Festival and the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.

Said Johnson, “Misko-Aki: Confluence of Cultures represents an assemblage of knowledge and information determined predominantly by Indigenous elders whose peoples traversed and inhabited the Muskoka region throughout history and up to the present day. It therefore emerges in this era of Truth and Reconciliation as an important marker of Indigenous primacy upon the land, replete with values and teachings of benefit to our communities.”

The story behind the exhibit
The story of how this exhibit came to be is as significant as the content of the exhibit itself. According to David Beyer, a member of the Cree First Nation, and a designer of the Misko-Aki exhibition identity, graphics, and web user experience: “There is currently very little representation in the mainstream cultural fabric of the region of its first peoples.”

Over the past 12 years the MSDC has established an evolving relationship with the Indigenous community in Muskoka. In partnership with MSDC, over the past three years, a group of Indigenous scholars, historians, language specialists and museum exhibit designers led by Tim Johnson, have conducted research and gathered stories about the eight communities and four cultures who have a current or historical interest in the District of Muskoka.

Their purpose has been to build an authentic, permanent exhibit — and a companion digital platform — that explains and honours the presence of Indigenous Peoples in Muskoka for the past 10,000-plus years. The digital version, while highlighting the same content themes, focuses on youth education and family audiences.

Said John Miller, MSDC President, “What makes this collaboration unusual in the museum/discovery centre world — if not unique — and unlike the other exhibits in our MDC space, is that the Indigenous Creative Circle has been in charge of design and curation. Or, as we say, Indigenous stories by Indigenous Peoples, and the result is a truly authentic exhibit.”

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