A Priceless Legacy

The work that Marius Barbeau and elders of the Wyandotte Nation conducted together a century ago represents a priceless legacy today.

The Wyandotte Nation is working to revive its language through recordings and documentation that Barbeau gathered from community members in 1911 and 1912. This work would be greatly hindered without Barbeau’s recordings made at a time when recording technology was brand new, travel was difficult, and Barbeau was an inexperienced young scholar.

For the citizens of the Wyandotte Nation the objects that Barbeau collected, for what is now the Canadian Museum of Civilization, form a unique resource. Several of these once relatively commonplace objects are now unique and considered cultural treasures.  As such, Barbeau’s collections help contemporary community members learn more about their ancestors and the lives they lived.

Barbeau was an unusually conscientious collector. A century ago, it was rare for objects to be collected with such in-depth biographical information about the people who made or used them. Barbeau’s detailed documentation means that present-day individuals can make direct family connections to objects associated with their relatives. For scholars and community members alike, this documentation makes the collection an important resource about Wyandotte traditional culture.

Although camera technology was still cumbersome and challenging, Barbeau photographed the people and places that he visited. His photographs depict important places such as the ceremonial ground and downtown Wyandotte, as well as the knowledgeable elders and translators with whom he collaborated. Wyandotte citizens appreciate that Barbeau’s well-documented and well-preserved historic photographs are available for the present generation to see and study.

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