My coworker and I are suffering from minor sunburns today, but I think we both agree they were worth it. Yesterday, on a gloriously sunny Cape Breton afternoon, we attended the official opening of the Membertou Heritage Park. It is sure to become an important cultural centre for the community (and we're sure to always have sunblock on hand in the future)!
The Membertou Heritage Park has been eight years in the making. Community members and Elders recognized the need for a space in which Membertou's story could be told and, after many years of hard work, the building is now open for business, with pavement and grass in place. Built on five acres of land, the centre's design was loosely based on a wi'kuom (wigwam) — or at least that's what I heard in the news coverage on the way to work this morning! Inside, there is a theatre, interpretive panels, material culture displays, and Petroglyphs gift shop (they have a ji'kmaqn for sale!). When the entire project is complete, the site will also feature walking trails, outdoor demonstration areas, and medicinal plants. Undoubtedly, this will be a popular site for community members and visitors alike, and especially for cruise ship passengers visiting the area during the summer.
Of course, following the opening ceremonies yesterday, there were too many people piling into the Heritage Park for me to get a really good look at the space and exhibits. So, I'm looking forward to returning there in the near future for a tour. If you can't get there in person, the Heritage Park's website (still under construction) offers a variety of audio-visual materials that have been assembled as part of the documentation process for this project. I especially like the interactive timeline. As this site grows, it will provide valuable insight into the history of the Membertou community and Mi'kmaw culture more generally. (Another great resource for Mi'kmaw culture in Cape Breton is CBU's Diversity in Unity project.)
In an interview with the Cape Breton Post, Chief Terry Paul remarked, "We know that the cultural centre will be pivotal and a very important source in making sure that our culture is here to stay and we can pass it on to future generations." It is clear that the community is committed to this goal as they share Mi'kmaw culture, traditions, and language with younger generations. The best part of the entire event was seeing young boys — maybe five years old — dressed in regalia and dancing ko'jua. Well done!