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    Special exhibition

    waawiindamaw. promise – Indigenous Art and Colonial Treaties in Canada

    exhibition poster

    April 12 2022 – January 8, 2023

    Three indigenous artists address colonial treaties. Their artworks tell stories of reserves, resources, rights and land. An exhibition about loss, broken promises and indigenous resistance.

    Wawiindamaw means "promise" in the language of the Anishinaabe First Nations. When was the last time you promised something or signed a contract? Did your signature have consequences for generations? Colonial treaties promised much and delivered little. Above all, they legitimized the claims of colonial powers to indigenous lands. Since the 17th century, colonial powers and First Nations in what is now Canada have made treaties with each other. Early treaties determined trade and diplomacy, war and peace. They were sites of ceremony and ritual, in which European and indigenous treaty partners negotiated as equals.

    To this day, they form the basis of the relationship between Indigenous nations and the Canadian state. Historical treaties were based on different concepts of land and had devastating consequences for Indigenous peoples. For Indigenous land was no more for sale than the air we breathe. Three indigenous artists address colonial treaties and their consequences in their works. An exhibition about the loss of land and broken promises. Under the pressure of the growing influx of settlers, the land and its resources soon became the focus of interest. However, when people spoke of "land", they were at best using the same word – but their understanding of and the cultural concepts behind it were fundamentally different. In North America, treaties have become synonymous with broken promises. Their history echoes the ongoing struggle for Indigenous rights. Most importantly, they still form the basis of the relationship between Indigenous nations and the Canadian state.

    In "waawiindamaw. promise", three Indigenous artists reflect on treaties. Their works tell of Indigenous rights, the impact of treaties on the lives of First Nations, and the consequences for the land and its resources. For Indigenous Nations in Canada, treaties are among the most pressing issues of the present, with immediate implications for the future and well-being of their communities and reserves.

    Three Anishinaabe artists and their works

    The Anishinaabe artists Barry Ace, Michael Belmore and Frank Shebageget are not only present in the exhibition with their works. Through workshops, talks and guided tours, they invite you to personal encounters and participatory engagement with a highly relevant topic, which is little known in Switzerland. What does it mean to sign a contract? What happens when treaties are broken? What does reparation actually mean and why do Indigenous Nations speak of living treaties? 

    NONAM collection

    Of borrowed plumes and other stories

    picture of our current exhibition

    Indigenous artists in urban settings, whalers in the Arctic, bison hunters on the Great Plains or mask carvers on the Northwest Coast. The collection exhibition invites you on a little journey across the vast North America. The museum highlights the diversity of the Indigenous Nations, past and present, and offers insights into the art forms and cultures of First Nations, Inuit, Native Americans and Native Alaskans.

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