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Tyendinaga musical revue launches Indigenous history exhibit

Te Konti Rennahkwa members Ali Brant, Crystal Loft, Mandy Smart, Carlene Smart and Nichole Green.

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
Flashback February celebrations of local history wrapped up on a high note Saturday with music and dancing performed by Indigenous neighbours to a packed house at Macaulay Museum.

A number of musicians from the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory entertained with an uplifting and joyful array of traditional music and dance which included country and folk songs as well as selection of Broadway tunes.

The concert began with Te Konti Rennahkwa (which translates to “They Pick up the Songs”), a women’s water drum and rattle group from Tyendinaga. The group has performed in Ottawa, Akwasasne, Brantford, Toronto, London and Onondaga, New York and is made up of members, Ali Brant, Mandy Smart, Nichole Green, Crystal Loft and Carlene Smart.

“As some of you may be aware, we have lost a lot in our culture, so we have to pick it back up, maybe travel, learn it, re-learn it, but we are happy to be here,” said Carlene Smart explaining the reference to the group’s name.

Te Konti Rennahkwa performing ‘Stomp’ as they circled the audience.

The first song they performed was ‘Round Dance’.

“That is to celebrate the Mother Earth and all that she gives us; it’s like an honour song, so that we can remember to protect Mother Earth and try to do the right thing to preserve what is there,” said Smart, self-described mum of the group.

She added many of the songs they perform do not contain just words, but are a mixture of words and chants.

Te Konti Rennahkwa performed five outstanding numbers, including ‘Women’s Dance’ and ‘Men’s Dance’, with their final performance the ‘Stomp’ which included a dance around the seated audience.

“These songs are very powerful to us,” said Mandy Smart, “and they are very ancient as they have been around for hundreds and hundreds of years.”

Husband and wife team, folk and country singers, Kieran Edwards and Jennifer Brant.

Husband and wife team Jennifer Brant and Kieran Edwards brought the country and folk element to the afternoon with several meaningful songs, from ‘Dragonfly’, ‘Two Lovers’ and ‘My Quinte Home.’ A performer for more than 20 years, Brant on rhythm guitar, is from Tyendinaga and is a singer, songwriter and photographer.

“I wrote ‘Promises of Love’ about 25 years ago for a friend’s wedding for a good life together,” said Brant.

Brant ended the set with ‘Turn It Around’ where she invited the audience to join in with the chorus.

Musical theatre performer, Taylor Marie Cole.

Born and raised in Tyendinaga, musical theatre performer Taylor Marie Cole’s big voice perfected the high and the low notes from a selection of Broadway tunes, including ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ from The Wizard of Oz, ‘I have Confidence’ from The Sound of Music, ‘Somebody to Love’ from We Will Rock You and ‘Part of Your World’ from The Little Mermaid.

Cole is currently in rehearsals in Newmarket for Cabaret.

“I am very grateful to have been invited here because I don’t get to perform in an environment like this very often,” said Cole. “Normally when I’m on stage singing, I’m usually with 20 other girls kicking my face while singing the highest note of my life and everything is very rigid because of the script that we have been studying for months, so I’m glad to have a little bit of freedom here.”

“This event was a good opportunity to partner with Narda Julg who co-ordinated the musical revue, but just to partner with more friends at Tyendinaga,” said Chase. “And just the fact that we are going to be following the concert with our Indigenous History exhibit, it’s just so pertinent to have this concert fronting that.”

Julg also helped coordinate the Indigenous art show last summer said Chase, who confirmed it will be brought back again this summer.

“We are just looking for more and more chances to invite neighbours from Tyendinaga to come down and use this space and especially now that we have the Indigenous History exhibit, there’s going to be a lot more opportunity for collaboration and programming based on what we know and have on display in the church,” added Chase.

Hillier councillor, Ernie Margetson officially declared the Indigenous History exhibit open with Jennifer Lyons, County Museums curator.

As PEC Mayor Steve Ferguson was in Toronto on official business, Hillier councillor Ernie Margetson stepped in to officially the Indigenous history exhibit on behalf of council.

Indigenous exhibit officially open at Macaulay Museum

“I think we all understand and appreciate the importance of strengthening the connections between Prince Edward County and the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte,” said Margetson. “This exhibit offers an exciting opportunity for members of our communities to collaborate, develop and promote a more inclusive history of this area.”

“I think we all recognize that it has been too long perhaps since our history included the history of the Indigenous people and we now recognize our opportunity for a more in-depth exploration of this history and this exhibit is a positive step forward in that regard.”

Margetson went on to say that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called on all Canadians to take action to address the legacy of residential schools and advance reconciliation.

“As noted in the Commission’s Report, Canada’s museums have only told part of the story excluding and marginalizing the cultural perspectives and historical experience of our aboriginal peoples.

“This exhibit today we are enjoying should also remind us that we all have a role to play in advancing the calls to action outlined in the Commission’s Final Report.”

Janice Brant shared a few words at the official opening of the Indigenous History exhibit.

Janice Brant said the community of Tyendinaga is happy about this opportunity.

“I see the work of our current community members here among ancient artifacts which is really a beautiful story about how we are still here and how we are still celebrating our culture and our way of life in modern times and translating it from the past to the present.”

Brant also repeated a portion of her speech in Mohawk and spoke about the grindstone on display as part of the exhibit.

“This particular tool, and I’m guessing it is about 3,000 years old, and predates some of my ancestors in this particular area.

“We prayed, we gave medicine and we talked to the spirit of these grandmothers that are present today,” said Brant. “When you get to know more about Indigenous peoples, everything is alive and everything has a spirit.”

An Indigenous grindstone believed to be several thousand years old forms part of the Indigenous History exhibit.

Brant said the stone was used for corn grinding, noting there is nothing in modern technology today that can process corn very well, adding that it was the easiest corn grinding she has ever done in her life.

“This brings museum sharing to a new level for the native people to be able to reconnect with one of their artifacts and to actually physically touch it and bring it back to life for its purpose,” she said. “That’s a pretty wonderful thing and that is important to me and our community, and I hope that we can continue to grow this beautiful friendship.”

Chase said the Indigenous history exhibit is a permanent exhibit, but fluid, based on new information as it becomes available, such as when people visit the exhibit, what they see, what they want to contribute and the stories they think should be told.

“This is really just the tip of the iceberg, but it’s also a response to our community’s desires as well because not only do museums as a whole want to better represent the history, but also people in our community and tourists want to know more about the Indigenous history of the County,” said Chase.


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