By Lloyd Divine
Early in 1911 Charles Marius Barbeau was told of the Wyandotte living in Oklahoma by Mary McKee, a Wyandotte living in Anderdon near Detroit. She told him of her cousin Bertrand Nicholas Oliver Walker – BNO, who lived in Oklahoma.
As BNO and Dr. Barbeau began to dialog BNO wrote, “The prospective field for research here [Oklahoma] is almost barren; yet it is the sole remaining place where even the shreds of anything pertaining to the past of the Wyandots can be found.” (107) After much planning and some minor delays, Dr. Barbeau arrived in Wyandotte, Oklahoma on Thursday, September 14, 1911 and immediately began his work – and work he did. How Dr. Barbeau was able to do everything he accomplished in two short months will always remain a mystery. For being “almost barren” he found Wyandotte, Oklahoma to have countless treasures.
After two difficult, but very productive months in Oklahoma, Dr. Barbeau was returning to Canada via a brief stop in Kansas City to see the old reservation. He was disappointed to find that very little remained. While there, he sent a postcard to his father that contained this comment scribbled in French, “Oklahoma is the most barbarous and uncivilized country I have yet visited.” (113) Even with those sentiments he returned in 1912, from April 20 though August 3, to finish his fieldwork. The material making up his collection, now housed in the Canadian Museum of Civilization, is the result of a little less than six months of work. That is amazing.
Today you are going to see 50 artifacts and somewhere around 32 photos from his collection. There are many more artifacts and photos that still remain in Canada. Some of the artifacts we requested were declined by the CMC because of being too “fragile.” We also requested his original wax cylinders that contain our language, it wasn’t surprising that they were also declined, but we tried.
As you enter the exhibit area a large mural of Dr. Barbeau will greet you. Citizens, while enjoying the artifacts remember this, you would not be enjoying them today if it wasn’t for Dr. Barbeau and the Canadian Museum of Civilization taking such wonderful care of them for the last 100 years. For this we are most grateful. Take the time to shake Mr. O’ Neil’s hand and tell him tizameh before the day ends. Also encourage him to do this: From this day forward the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Wyandotte Nation should have an open and mutually nourishing relationship. The CMC would not have this collection if it wasn’t for us, and we would not have the collection if it weren’t for them. We have invested interests and sharing should be of mutual interest to both of us. Today with the opening of this exhibit it shows without questions or doubts the importance of Dr. Barbeau’s work to both the museum and the nation. This is an important day for everyone here.
The traditional language of a people, their stories, dances and songs are sacred cultural items that cannot be owned and leased by anyone. The Wyandotte people should not be required to sign a contractual agreement with limitations or exclusions to access and use what is culturally ours. The artifacts, Dr. Barbeau purchased them. Yes they are special but tangible artifacts, many were made at Dr. Barbeau request and the CMC rightfully owns them, this we do not dispute. I now welcome and formally invite the CMC to discuss excusing any and all restriction that has been placed upon this great nation and its people in the past, present and future. Our language, as transcribed and recorded on wax cylinders by Dr. Barbeau, we want to revive and reinstate as a living language. We will do this with the help of some wonderful new friends here at the Sam Noble Museum, Dr. Daniel Swan and Dr. Mary Linn. This is an incredible institution and we have been most pleased with their meticulous care and thoughtful considerations to both your and our needs. We also have Dr. Craig Kopris helping. He has an ongoing relationship with the CMC and now all we need is you. Will you enter into an agreement with the Wyandotte Nation, agreeing to exempt us from contractual limitations and exclusions to our language? Full access. Full disclosure. Consider the offer, bask in the accomplishment of today, and we’ll be in touch.
A week ago Monday seven of us were here at the museum to welcome and symbolically receive the artifacts as they were unpacked from two large shipping crates. It was an incredible day. As the artifacts were being unpacked there was one that was … WOW as it came out of its shipping box. Catherine Johnson’s sap trough. As I watched it being unwrapped I finally conceded to the reality that this was really happening. Maggie Coon’s handbags are exquisite and Smith Nichols’ club is massive. How many of you did finger weaving during Culture Days? There is a finger woven sash upstairs; unfortunately, we don’t know who wove it, but look at it and dream of making your own just like it. I’m going to expect to see a replica or two next year at Culture Days.
Seeing the faces of our people that made the artifacts, and to put a face to the voices on scratchy wax cylinders not only make them come alive – but live. For me personally the most special thing to come out of this exhibit is seeing every one of you here today. This is what the exhibit is all about – you. But then again there are two photos of my great-great grandfather, John Bland, Jr. He did not provide or sell any artifacts to Dr. Barbeau, but he gave to his great-great-great grandchildren, my girls and all their cousins, a wonderful legacy and heritage. Today is a great day to be a Wyandotte and a Seneca-Cayuga.
Nowry, Laurence. Man of Mana, Marius Barbeau. Toronto: NC Press Limited, 1995. Print.