Unpacking stories behind the artifacts

October 3, 2018 | Arts & Culture, Society
We’re excited to welcome the Royal Alberta Museum to the neighbourhood! 

Chantal Roy Denis is a MacEwan alumna who works in the Indigenous Studies Department at the Royal Alberta Museum. She helped prepare the museum’s collection of First Nations, Métis and Inuit material archives for the move downtown.

There’s a sled dog blanket in the collection that is just to die for. It has pompoms and amazing beadwork in all four corners — it’s bold, flashy and gorgeous. When I saw it once belonged to Frank Lepine, I recognized the name — my family are Lepines from Saskatchewan — and started digging. 

I learned that Frank (Francois) transported mail and goods by dog team around Great Slave Lake. I found records of his dad, some information about his family and photos of him in an archive. In piecing together this genealogy, I discovered that we have another item in the Royal Alberta Museum collection made by Frank’s aunt.

Being able to make these kinds of connections and find the names of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit women who created the artifacts that make up the museum’s collection is huge.

Seventy to 80 per cent of the roughly 18,000 items in our Indigenous Studies collection are the work of women. In these artifacts, we see their voices, their art, their perspectives, their expression and their love.

There’s energy that went into making each piece in the collection, and it feels like that energy comes out again when people visit the archives. Family members will come to see their aunt’s beadwork or their mother’s silk embroidery. While they’re here they sometimes recognize the unique styles or signatures of other pieces, and are able to tell us who made them. It’s one of the things I love most about working here. To us the collection is a living thing, so it’s nice to have people come and visit it.

Being surrounded by all of the amazing work done by women is also incredibly humbling and empowering — it inspires me to keep moving forward, to take on challenges and to pay homage to the central role Indigenous women play in the health and governance of our communities.

— Chantal Roy Denis, BA, History ‘15, MA (UofA) ’18 

Read more of Chantal's story.

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