The Anishinaabeg indigenous people found a friend in the London museum this year.
In 1975 the museum came into the possession of wax cylinders and disks that were recordings of Anishinaabeg traditional songs and stories.
The museum had never played the recordings and were unaware of the value of the artifacts, other than their historical significance.
They are from a time when indigenous people were suffering at the hands of the Canadian residential school system. The Anishinaabeg culture faced annihilation at the time and there were real fears among it’s members that their traditions and history would be wiped out.
So, in 1938 Robert and Eliza Thompson shared Anishinaabeg songs and stories with Dr. Edwin Seaborn, in an attempt to preserve some of the oral tradition and history of the First Nations people.
Some 80 years later, a Ph. D candidate and saugeen band member, Bimadoshka Pucan discovered that the museum had been storing these relics in its archives for decades. She immediately recognized that the artifacts needed to be shared with Anishinaabeg who had been living in the bruce peninsula area.
At first the museum admitted that they could not play the recordings because of the extremely outdated nature of the physical recordings. Playing the recordings on surviving players risked destroying or damaging the records.
“…We didn’t have the technology to play the recordings for her…” – Museum London Regional History Curator, Amber Lloydlangston
Bimadoshka and the museum contacted a university team in Massachusetts that had been working on a machine designed to solve their problem. The machine, a laser scanner that could translate the physical grooves on the records into a digital recordings. This project succeeded and Bimadoshka took the digital recordings and played them for the elders in the community.
“They were the only ones who could do it…”
The physical recordings had been so accurate that members of the community were able to recognize the voice of Robert Thompson, who to them was ‘Uncle Bob.’ The recordings, as it turned out, were not just to be of familial significance, they would prove themselves to be extraordinary recounting of historical heroism from the war of 1812. The recording
, one of several, told the story of two young men who had witnessed the death of Tecumseh, a figure larger than life in first nations history.
The pair had been at the battle of the Thames near modern day Chatham, where American invaders pursued retreating british soldiers who had been starved out of detroit. During his life Tecumseh pushed to create an independant confederacy made up of multiple tribes who lived in the Ohio valley (modern day southwestern Ontario and midwestern U.S states)
The recordings were also of a sacred nature which contained intimate secrets of the Anishinaabeg culture. They were of love songs and celebration, one even an oral map, used by fur traders to get from the heart of the great lakes peninsula, to central Quebec. These songs were of deep emotional value to the Anishinaabeg and have helped revive parts of their native language, lost over the years of persecution.
The relics and recordings are now on display at the museum for its last weekend of exhibition, September 15th to 16th. The museum has brought in a story teller, who will share other songs of First Nations peoples who lived on this land, not all that long ago.