Richard Laurin had finished his course requirements but was still working on the thesis for his Master of Museum Studies when he was hired on as a “kit developer” at the Manitoba Museum in the fall of 2015. Now, two years later, he not only has his Master’s degree but also experience working on the team that has just won this year’s Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Museums.
Laurin was a key player in developing the innovative Spirit Lines educational tool kit, which merges Indigenous heritage and museum expertise. The kits contain everything from replica artifacts, including sculptures and beaded watch pockets created by Manitoba artisans, to books and audio recordings which retell histories and legends in both oral and written Cree, Ojibwe-Cree and English. To aid writing in the Swampy Cree and Oji-Cree dialects, the kits feature Cree dictionaries and programmed syllabic keyboards complete with instructions.
“These books and replicas can easily be brought into the classroom instead of the classroom being brought into the museum,” says Laurin, who trailed the kits behind him in special suitcases on wheels when he headed north to get feedback and deliver basic kit training to schools.
Laurin, who was hired to work on the 20-month project thanks to funding from the Museums Assistance Program, first came to the Manitoba Museum on a summer internship arranged by the MMSt program in 2014.
With Spirit Lines, he was responsible for the day-to-day development and progress of the kits. “We actively sought out and ensured participation by elders, language specialists and school board administrators and teachers,” he says. “They all played a critical role in shaping the eventual kits.”
Laurin’s team eventually built two versions of the kits—one for Norway House Cree Nation and another for Garden Hill First Nation—which were delivered in March 2017 and have already been successfully used in schools.
The Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Museums recognizes institutions that demonstrate excellence in the presentation, preservation, and interpretation of Canadian history.
“The Manitoba Museum’s Spirit Lines project is an inspiring work that captures the very essence of Reconciliation. By working with Indigenous communities, the Manitoba Museum has been able to create educational tool kits that re-introduce into schools cultural heritage that may have otherwise been lost,” says John McAvity, CEO of the Canadian Museums Association, which partners with Canada’s History Society and the Governor General to make this award.
Laurin and others from the Manitoba Museum will be attending the presentation ceremony to receive the award from Governor General Julie Payette on November 22, 2017.