In 1938, Robert and Eliza Thompson, residents of the Saugeen First Nation, shared Anishinaabeg songs and stories with Dr. Edwin Seaborn. This oral history, given in Anishinaabemowin and English, was recorded onto wax cylinders and discs which were donated to the Museum in 1975. They remained in storage until 2011, when Ph.D. candidate and Saugeen First Nation Member, Bimadoshka (Annya) Pucan, came across them in her research. Pucan’s rediscovery of these artifacts and the history they represent, was the starting point of this exhibition that considers the multiple meanings from the point of view of Anishinaabe community members. Recently digitized, these songs and stories are featured throughout the exhibition.

Anishinaabe culture is passed down from generation to generation using songs and stories. The traumas caused by residential schools and the 1876 Indian Act created a void in this intergenerational communication. The resulting loss of culture has had multiple negative consequences on Anishinaabeg individuals and communities. Pucan recognized the importance of retrieving the information from these cylinders and discs and now, decades later, Robert and Eliza Thompson’s voices are helping to fill these gaps. Their stories and songs now contribute to the ongoing cultural revival of the Saugeen First Nation.

The exhibition introduces many, both past and present, involved in this project: Robert and Eliza Thompson; Dr. Edwin Seaborn; Bimadoshka (Annya) Pucan (the exhibition’s curator); and Saugeen First Nation Elders and Traditional Teachers, who were pivotal in interpreting the songs and stories. Also revealed is the technology used to make the original recordings and that used to digitize them. 

Image: Robert Thompson (detail), London Free Press Collection, Western Archives, Western University, London, Ontario.