Sunday, August 09, 2015

Farewell to Calgary

Yesterday we spent at the Glenbow Museum, several hours of studying exhibits on First Nations peoples (does not include Metis), until we sank down on a nice black leather couch in the lobby and said, "Let's go back to the hotel."

I feel like I'm circling around what all these artifacts mean, without truly understanding the culture. What we experienced at Heritage Park seems tied in some way, but the meaning is not laid out. What emerges is a life in balance with nature, with the people moving in tune to the seasons, a sharp but complementary division between the work of men (hunting/protecting the clan) and women (gathering/making the home), and an underlying respect for all life in all forms. The spirituality is clear as many of these artifacts are sacred, with specific and undefined purpose.

Beaded Moccasins, Siksika, 1900s
But the realities of having human emotion can be seen as well. Story robes, beautifully painted with key events in a tribe or person's life, recall daring deeds and skirmishes between tribes/clans over land and horses.

One of my favorite mini-exhibits was a series of photographs on hair styles. Women, being modest and unassuming, wore simple braids.

The men were more flamboyant, with very specific purposes behind their hair dressing, plaited, supplemented with 'product', and embellished with beads or feathers. When a man left his hair unbraided, he was involved in something serious, most likely related to death.Children were warned not to copy the hair styles of the men, for the meanings were not always shared.

Metis Fiddle, Assumption Sash, and
Accordian (Glenbow)
A thread of outrage underlies the history of how life changed for the native peoples once the Europeans came, bringing alcohol and diseases. Early fur traders intermarried with natives, creating a mixed race of Metis; their usefulness played out against a backdrop of simple, greedy exploitation as the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company battled for control of the fur trade.

Even the opening definition of terms at the Glenbow says that Metis are not considered part of First Nations. But I get a sense for those men who married into clans, that the Metis were family.

Our next stop: camping for two nights in Banff and then on to Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site where we shall learn more of fur trade history.

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