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Living Words:
Aboriginal Diplomats of the 18th Century

A major intercultural initiative in celebration of the Great Peace of Montreal

Montreal, May 4, 2001 - The McCord Museum proudly announces the May 4th opening of Living Words: Aboriginal Diplomats of the 18th Century. On this 300th anniversary of the Great Peace of Montreal, we invite you to discover the intricacies and eloquence of Native diplomacy, and participate in living traditions of intercultural peace.

1701 - The Great Peace
In 1701, French representatives gathered in Montreal with delegates from close to 40 Aboriginal nations to sign the Great Peace of Montreal. Over the course of several days, participants engaged in a series of diplomatic activities, meetings and official speeches, and took part in commercial exchanges and festivities. Although the French authorities had for many years sought a treaty to end the unrelenting warfare, their efforts would not have succeeded without the participation and skill of Native diplomats who were favourable to peace. On the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of the Great Peace of Montreal, the McCord Museum is paying homage to Aboriginal diplomats who distinguished themselves throughout the 18th century.

These notable figures were gifted orators who spoke for their communities during negotiations with Europeans. They often adopted an original clothing style that combined traditional Native garments with elements of European fashion. They were powerful individuals who made smoking the peace pipe (calumet), the use of wampum and the giving of gifts an integral part of diplomatic exchanges in New France. Aboriginal women also played an important role in political life, though they often did so behind the scenes.

The Exhibition
Drawing on the McCord's archival documents and exceptional collection of Aboriginal objects (calumets, garments, accessories, wampum, trade silver ornaments), Living Words: Aboriginal Diplomats of the 18th Century also includes objects borrowed from other institutions. Among these are four spectacular oil paintings created in 1710 by Dutch artist John Verelst, on loan from the National Archives of Canada. These portraits depict Aboriginal spokesmen - "The Four Indian Kings," as they have come to be known - who visited the court of Queen Anne in London.

2001 - Teaching Peace
In an educational initiative undertaken in collaboration with l'École montréalaise, a provincial education program, the McCord recently offered workshops on Native iconography and culture to 22 classes of elementary students from around the Island of Montreal. The sculptures created by the students in response to their initiation to Native culture were then assembled to form The Tree of Peace, a monolithic mixed-media installation featured prominently in the exhibition. A further project undertaken by l'École montréalaise and the Corporation des fêtes de la Grande Paix de Montréal will bring together 500 Native school children from Aboriginal communities throughout Quebec and 500 French-speaking students from Montreal schools. These students will enjoy a guided tour of the exhibition, a theatrical presentation, and three nights of camping near the Botanical Gardens.

The McCord will also offer a full program of public cultural and educational activities in conjunction with the exhibit. Public workshops will introduce visitors to 18th-century diplomatic customs, Native pictograms (a form of writing) and Native beadwork.

A First Nations Tradition
With this commemorative exhibition and this assembly of young cultural ambassadors, the McCord renews its commitment to the preservation and promotion of the history of our nation as told by all its inhabitants.

The McCord has long been recognized for its collaborative work with Native communities and organizations. The exhibition Across Borders: Beadwork in Iroquois Life, on view at the Canadian Museum of Civilization from June 8 to November 4, 2001, was produced in collaboration with Native curators and artists. Presenting more then 300 stunning and rarely seen objects, this innovative exhibition explores the importance of beadwork in the political, economic and cultural life of the Iroquois nation.

Past exhibitions featuring objects from the McCord's First Nations collection also include:A Village Called Hochelaga; Names and Lives in Nunavuk; Marks of the Mi'kmaq Nation; Manituminaki: The Power of Glass Beads; and Watahine: Photographs of Aboriginal Women by Nancy Ackerman.

The exhibition and its complementary educational and cultural initiatives are major features of a citywide intercultural celebration of peace, spearheaded by la Corporation des fêtes de la Grande Paix de Montréal to mark the 300th anniversary of the Great Peace of Montreal.

The CBC is the Official Media Presenter of Living Words: Aboriginal Diplomats of the 18th Century. We wish to thank the National Archives of Canada for lending the portraits of the "Four Indian Kings" from their National Portrait Collection, and for contributing financially towards their conservation.

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Source : Nike Langevin
(514) 398-7100, ext. 251

slides and digital images available on request

The McCord wishes to acknowledge the support of the Heritage Canada Museums Assistance Program, the Quebec Ministry of Culture and Communications, the Arts Council of the Montreal Urban Community, La Presse, and The Gazette.