A unique indigenous exhibit has arrived at the Okotoks Museum and Archives.
Originally assembled by Piikani Nation member Ira Provost (Piikanikoan in Blackfoot) as a guest curator for Lethbridge's Galt Museum and Archives, the exhibit ranges from contemporary music to a modern take on Blackfoot storytelling.
Titled Piikanikoan: Living under a Blackfoot Sky: A Modern Winter Count, the exhibit features a range of insights into Provost’s experiences as a member of the Piikani and Blackfoot people.
Central to the exhibit is a vinyl replica of a tanned buffalo hide with a visual biography of Provost, created by friend, colleague, and Blood Tribe artist William Singer III, or Api’soomaahka (meaning Running Coyote).
“It’s telling my story in a more appropriate Blackfoot way, and how we’ve always told stories, one of the methods was through the winter count as a type of storytelling,” Provost said.
In its traditional form, he explained it to be a tanned buffalo hide – or buffalo robe – with images drawn onto the surface.
“The images drawn consisted of significant events of people who were in possession of or owned the hide,” the educator said. “Various themes I chose to highlight taken from the winter count are heritage, education, career, culture, music, and a final panel on my gratitude, my thanks. I chose to showcase significant images of my life, blending a story of who I am in my landscape.
“It starts with images of who I am, so it starts with a symbol that I relate to who I am – it's a guitar in a traditional native sun, then it branches out into symbols that relate to my identity.
“Shortly thereafter we get into the theme of family and heritage, all the images that you then see are images of people, and those people represent my family, it represents my wife, my children and my grandchildren.”
The exhibit offers other unique perspectives of Provost’s life.
“I then separated several significant themes that guide me as an indigenous man into story panels,” he said.
Those themes include heritage, education, career, culture, music, and his gratitude, accompanied by lyrics on adjoining panels with a QR code that will play the song for viewers.
While Provost has made a decades-long career educating and sharing his culture, his musical stylings aren’t always brought to light.
"Something I never really get to do on a regular basis is share that I’m a musician as well,” he said.
“I’ve always had a passion for popular musical heritage, and how to blend it with my indigenous music.”
One song even touches on his father’s love of Elvis.
“I had a father who was really into Elvis, and all of those ‘50s and ‘60s styles of music rubbed off on me,” Provost said. “So, doing a little bit of research, I went to people in my community and actually found that people in my community, they were quite musical.
“Blackfoot people, we’ve always had a hard history, but what I was finding was that music was a thing that always draws families together in a good way.
“And there’s a story to tell there, about how this music, this contemporary music was able to do that.”
Finding a breadth of experiences, Provost focused on what touched him the most: music had lifted him up through his whole life.
“I said what I’ll do is just tell my story, my perspective of indigenous music and how it affected or assisted me in my own endeavours,” he said. “And it truly did, it was a huge part of me and it helped me and it was always there for me.”
An indigenous educator in cross-cultural programming for approximately 30 years, Provost has spoken with institutions on the public, corporate and private level.
“I’ve always had that passion for sharing my culture, and obviously I’m from Piikani, one of the Blackfoot Confederacy tribes,” he said.
“I’ve always enjoyed sharing in events when you do a good job of sharing culture and knowledge and the audience really understood and appreciate what you’re saying.”
“That’s so fulfilling, and that’s what I always carry with me when I do cross-cultural awareness.”
Okotoks Museum and Archives specialist Kathy Coutts is delighted to be able to show the exhibit, which runs from Sept. 3 to 30.
“This exhibit has many layers of storytelling,” Coutts said. “And we’re very grateful for being able to share this exhibit with the community.”