On December 12, Eddie King, an Odawa tribal elder, working from in a room at the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation in M'Chigeeng met via videoconference with people located at the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford University to explore some of the historical artifacts that are on display in England. Mr. King was able to share his knowledge and life experiences with these folks as he helped them understand the importance of the various items. The entire session was webcast and archived for others to use in teaching and learning about the traditional knowledge of that special part of Manitoulin Island.
Press Release from University of Oxford, England
14 December 2007 - In a unique research experiment, the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation, a First Nations heritage institution in Canada (www.theocf.ca/), and staff at the Pitt Rivers Museum have held an internet-based videoconference with a tribal elder in Canada to expand understanding of artifacts in the Museum’s collections. This is a new way of using technology to share collections, and knowledge about them, with indigenous source communities overseas.
A temporary studio was created in the research area within the Museum’s new extension, with a display of artifacts originating from Canadian Great Lakes communities. Eddie King, an Odawa tribal elder, worked in a room at the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation. He was able to control the camera in the Pitt Rivers studio remotely from his desk in Canada to examine details of the pouches and bags displayed and comment on their cultural meaning.
The technical link was made possible with cooperation between Museum technical and education staff, IT staff at the OCF, and KNet Services (http://knet.ca), a First Nations broadband applications provider for remote tribal communities. KNet is based in Sioux Lookout, Ontario, several hundred kilometres from the OCF.
Present in the PRM studio was Alan Corbiere, Executive Director of the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation, whose mandate is to preserve and revitalize the culture and traditions of Anishnaabe [Ojibwe] people. He and Dr Laura Peers, Lecturer Curator responsible for the Americas collections, held a two-hour conversation with Mr King about four objects in the Museum’s collection during the session.
Mr Corbiere was in Oxford as part of a group of researchers from Canada who have formed the Great Lakes Research Alliance (GRASAC, https://icslac.carleton.ca/grasac/), led by Professor Ruth Phillips of Carleton University in Canada. The visit was funded jointly by the British Academy and the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. In a four day visit to the Pitt Rivers Museum, the group examined about one hundred artifacts, working with conservation and curatorial staff to examine the objects more fully. The specialist knowledge held by group members—tribal members, textile experts, and historians—will be added to the Museum’s database as well.
Dr Laura Peers said ‘This is an exciting new way to make collections accessible to communities in North America. So much more can be learned when we can all see and discuss details such as colour, size, and pattern, and we learn a great deal working with First Nations peoples.’
Alan Corbiere noted that from an indigenous perspective, ‘Our cultural heritage is dispersed in museums all over the world, and many of our people don’t travel. The teleconference is a virtual way of bringing objects ‘home for a visit’ for our people to see.’
The new £8 million extension of Oxford University’s Pitt Rivers Museum was officially opened on 22 November by Michael Palin and the Vice-Chancellor, Dr John Hood. It has transformed the Museum’s capacity to serve all its visitors, including scholars from home and abroad, and members of indigenous communities such as the Ojibwe group.
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*The Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, is an international centre for Anthropology and World Archaeology. It was founded in 1884 when General Pitt Rivers, an influential figure in the development of archaeology and evolutionary anthropology, gave his personal collection of 20,000 items to the university on the condition that a museum was built to house the material. The majority of objects are displayed typologically, that is grouped by form or purpose, rather than by geographic or cultural origin. This unusual layout was developed by General Pitt Rivers himself.
*In 2005, the Museum won the Guardian newspaper’s award for the most family-friendly museum in the country, along with its sister the Museum of Natural History.
*The new extension to the Museum’s galleries has been jointly funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), and by the University.
*K-Net (http://knet.ca) provides information and communication technologies in First Nation communities across a vast, remote region of north-western Ontario. This private telecommunications network supports the development of online applications that combine video, voice and data services requiring broadband and high-speed connectivity solutions. K-Net is a program of Keewaytinook Okimakanak (KO), a First Nations tribal council established by the leaderships of six northern Ontario bands.
*For more information on the Pitt Rivers Museum please visit http://www.prm.ox.ac.uk