New Exhibit Honours Legacy of Paul Commanda and Indigenous Guides
A new exhibit, developed in partnership with Nipissing First Nation, Dokis First Nation, Nipissing University and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (Pittsburgh), is now on display at the North Bay Museum, honouring the work of Paul Commanda, the Nbisiiing Guides and their contributions to science. Entitled Our Guides are Really Going Places/Nishnaabeg e-paamwingewaad waasa zhaawag: Nbisiiing Guides and the Legacy of Paul Commanda, the exhibit showcases the photographs and stories of the Indigenous Guides who led the Carnegie Museum expeditions that occurred between 1901 and 1958.
Guides such as Paul Commanda (Nbisiing) and George Carey (Omuskego) led the expeditions along rivers, through rapids, and over portages. They cooked meals and kept everyone safe while sharing their extensive land-based knowledge. This work enabled the naturalists to harvest northern birds, plants, and animals for the museum’s collections, which are still used by scientists today.
“Paul Commanda and the guides in these expeditions were the astronauts, cosmonauts of their day,” said Joan McLeod Shabogesic of Nipissing First Nation. “They piloted their small crafts to carry the expedition scientists into the far north to complete research projects.”
The exhibit showcases the Carnegie Museum collections through a large-scale print of a Snow Goose dio-rama as well as a display of specimens collected on the expeditions. Also featured is beaded artwork inspired by the Carnegie Expeditions and a painting focused on telling the Nbisiing creation story.
“This exhibit is a reflection of ten years of relationship-building between Nipissing University, Nipissing First Nation, Dokis First Nation, and the North Bay Museum, which developed into a formal partnership in 2019,” says Dr. Kirsten Greer, exhibit curator and Associate Professor at Nipissing University. “Our partnership aims to rethink repatriation and reconciliation and illustrates the importance of working in relationship on traditional Nbisiing territory.”
“Our hope for this exhibit is that it will bring larger awareness of the important contributions that Indigenous guides like Paul Commanda made to scientific research in Canada,” shared Naomi Hehn, Director/Curator of the North Bay Museum.
McLeod Shabogesic said the relationships developed through the project “knitted a relationship with Nation Members and Elders providing a platform for our Nation families to showcase their ancestors’ contribution to scientific re-search and their Nation’s heritage.”
Funding for the development of the exhibit was provided by the Government of Canada through the Museum Assistance Program and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The exhibit will be open to the public at the North Bay Museum until October 2022.
The exhibit is closely connected to the Lake Nipissing Beading Project funded by Nipissing University.
The Lake Nipissing Beading Project is a 5-metre beaded reimagining of Lake Nipissing along with its tributaries and waterways using 444 individually beaded pieces. The project will soon be on display and open to the public at Nipissing University, beginning September 9. It will then travel with The Guides are Really Going Places exhibit to the Sault Ste. Marie Museum, Thunder Bay Museum, Dokis Museum, and Timmins Museum.
For more information on these projects and the team involved, please visit the exhibit websites at www.nipissingguides.com and www.lakenipissingbeadingproject.com.
Dr. Kirsten Greer wishes to extend a special thank you to the following individuals who helped make the travelling exhibit possible: Joan McLeod Shabogesic, Naomi Hehn, Carrie Allison, Glenna Beaucage, Randy Restoule, Terry Dokis, Erin Dokis, Katie Hemsworth, Katrina Srigley, Megan Jee, Paige Linklater-Wong, Keithen Sutherland, Stephen Rogers, Will Knight, Mark Peck, Matt Rogalsky, Laura Cameron, Ysabel Castle, Ryan Hehn and the staff at the North Bay Museum.