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Reinterpreting the ROM's Tree Cookie: a success story of reconciliation through interpretation

15 Jan 2020 10:08 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

bJ'net Ayayqwayaksheelth, B.A., M.A.(One who gives away and still stands tall)

As the Indigenous Outreach and Learning Coordinator at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), I get a variety of tasks to address grassroots interests in the museum. In 2016, we were faced with a unique conversation starter prompted by online Twitter comments. Stan Wesley,  a Cree Indigenous educator tweeted comments to invite the ROM to address an inaccurate Christopher Columbus Discovers America statement. This statement appears in the center of a slice of an old-growth Douglas Fir tree we have on loan from the University of Toronto that is featured in our Hands On Gallery across from the popular Bat Cave.  We discussed this with our Indigenous Advisory Circle (IAC) and we agreed that we could not change the intellectual property of the original artist  interpretation.

Tree cookie on display at Royal Ontario Museum - an IC blog

photo courtesy of Royal Ontario Museum

Our IAC members did assert that we have a responsibility as a museum learning department to accurately interpret this outdated statement that reflected the beliefs for the 1920 era the specimen was made into an artifact. There is not much many of us can do with the pace of change within the museum sector. In time, by 2018, we were able to budget for a video project to interview Nuu-chah-nulth nation members from Tseshaht First Nation about the cultural significance of this old-growth tree. This was possible because practicum students from Fleming College Environment Visual Communications program work directly in partnership with the ROM.

This was a significant continental collaboration. We hosted a formal reveal in the fall 2019 with Stan Wesley and his family invited to bear witness to the fruits of his grassroots efforts to speak the truth within our public institutions. While the wait was long, this act of reconciliation will live on with authentic voices included in real-time interpretation of living Indigenous cultures.  

Close of view mentioning historical events marked on tree rings - an IC blog

photo courtesy of Royal Ontario Museum

Here is the link for the Tree Cookie story covered by my small hometown Indigenous newspaper called the Ha-shilth-sa:   https://hashilthsa.com/news/2019-11-05/old-growth-tree-slice-reinterpreted-through-nuu-chah-nulth-perspective

J'net AyAyQwaYakSheelth (One who gives away and still stands tall) is the Indigenous Outreach and Learning Coordinator at the Royal Ontario Museum. As part of the Learning Department, J'net leads the development and implementation of relevant Indigenous content and perspectives in School Visits and community outreach programs. This work is designed to advance awareness, understanding, and appreciation for Indigenous cultures and heritage in both historical and contemporary contexts. J’net also developed an Indigenous Advisory Circle of knowledge carriers, elders, youth, and artists to assist the ROM with the authentic representation of Indigenous peoples in educational programming, youth programs, and outreach.


Interpretation Canada c/o Kerry Wood Nature Centre 6300 45th Ave Red Deer, AB, Canada  T4N 3M4

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