May 24th, 2024

Mootookakio’ssin making Blackfoot reconnections

By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on November 19, 2021.

Herald photo by Al Beeber - Website developer Calvin Lloyd is part of Mootookakio'ssin, a collaboration involving the University of Lethbridge, Blackfoot elders, British museums and UK artists.


A collaborative website involving the University of Lethbridge, Blackfoot elders, British museums and UK artists is now up and running.
The Mootookakio’ssin – distant awareness in English – project is designed to virtually reconnect Blackfoot people with items in UK museums. The project is intended to help build bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations and to help Blackfoot people gain knowledge of their past.
Christine Clark, an assistant professor of New Media in the Faculty of Fine Arts at the said on Thursday “this project is using both digital imaging technologies and web technologies to virtually reconnect items that are in museums in England with people living in Blackfoot territory.
“So on the website, you can go and see items that are currently in museums, interact with 3-D models of them and learn about their histories and stories about the materials and designs that you see on them,” said Clark.
“I think there’s been a real disconnect in not having access to these important items that represent so much about Blackfoot culture. And so in recognizing the lack of access to the material, during a time where there’s processes of knowledge renewal occurring, we felt creating a greater level of access to that material, as well as detailed images of them so people can learn about each item and learn about the history connected to them. And have that contribute to those processes of knowledge renewal,” Clark said during a drop-in demonstration event in the Science Commons atrium.
The items on the website include non-sacred Blackfoot items that were chosen by elders who went to London to see the items, Clark said.
Among those items are a war club, owned by Little Plume, a prominent warrior and chief. There is a beaded belt and a girl’s dress.
“A whole range of items that have varied stories behind them and different connections to individuals that are involved in the project,” Clark said.
Because the items are not ceremonial or sacred repatriating them to the Blackfoot Confederacy is not a priority, Clark said.
The site is also fully installable as a web app so if people don’t have an Internet connection, they can still view the items, website developer Calvin Lloyd said.
Lloyd, who chose the software frameworks and the web technologies that allow 3-D images to be shown, said “I made it so that it would be very easy post-site launch to be able to add additional items in the future if they so choose.”
He spent about a year working on the project.
“I think one of the things we wanted to accomplish was make people aware of some the material that is over in England,” said Blackfoot elder Jerry Potts.
Much of the material goes back to the late 1700s and early 1800s and hadn’t been seen by Blackfeet people for a long time, he said.
“To be able to capture that image, especially in the perspective that we were working with 3-D imaging, that was very exciting because I thought and was thinking what a great opportunity for young people to see the kind of art and craft work that our people did back in the day. Some of the stuff it’s all quill work, it’s made before contact with the white people,” said Potts.
“That stuff is absolutely amazing with the natural materials that were used, our people were very, very colourful. There was a lot of class in what they did because I think when you look at all American Indians and that, it’s very important that the Blackfeet were the top of the food chain with a lot of the stuff.
“It’s quite amazing when you see the material,” he said adding the museum culture isn’t as friendly overseas as the culture the Blackfeet have worked with here.
“We had a couple of rescue missions they did where they did go and retrieve some ceremonial items a number of years ago. And it took years of negotiations with the museum.
“So when we went, we were almost viewed as we were there to try and look at something we were going to bring back which wasn’t the case,” Potts said.
“If there’s something that’s ceremonial, that’s the stuff we’re trying to revive in our communities. It’s our livelihood, it’s who we are. That stuff needs to come home,” he said.
Elders weren’t allowed in collection rooms and were just shown certain materials on a table. And three guards watched every move the elders made, he said.
“We tried to put a story behind what has been collected because it did belong to somebody and it did mean something. So I think even by our ways of knowing and understanding, we still have a number of people that understand, that know the stories and that’s what we’re trying to bring back into effect for better understanding.
“This was such an opportunity for the younger people to be able to have a look into the past and I think what a great opportunity to learn about your culture and who you are and where we come from.
Potts added “we have great ideas to do things but unless the will is there for the guidance within, we have academics and I think people we’ve worked with….their hearts are truly in what they were doing and it’s something where we’re working with the idea. They gave our knowledge and wisdom the credibility as high academics.
“That’s kind of really opening the doors to the whole thing of Truth and Reconciliation,” he said.

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