November is Native American Heritage Month and to honor the presence and histories of Native Americans in our own state, Michigan Humanities spoke to the Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center who recently opened a new exhibit called “The Seventh Fire: A Decolonizing Experience” on the campus of Northern Michigan University. This multimedia exhibit is a collaborative project between Beaumier Center, faculty and staff in the Center for Native American Studies at NMU, members of the Native American Student Association, the Great Lakes Peace Center, and the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan. “The Seventh Fire: A Decolonizing Experience” is a Humanities Grant recipient and its goal is to share important parts of Anishinaabe’s history and cultural beliefs. Moreover, the exhibit seeks to provide a vision of how Anishinaabe’s experiences could be decolonized today starting with how exhibits are spatially arranged and exploring alternative ways in which exhibits are organized and experienced. We invite you to learn more about this exhibit below.

Can you briefly tell us what the installation: “The Seventh Fire: A Decolonizing Experience” is about?

Well, the title comes from the seven fires prophecy of the Anishinaabe, which stated that after six fires (stages) full of emigration, first contact and colonization by Europeans, the loss of their ancestral homelands and culture, that there would be a time of re-emergence of indigenous beliefs and self-determination. That essentially is what the exhibition is about. It tells the history of the Anishinaabe people from a time before and after colonization. However, it also looks at how today the Indigenous people of the region are regaining what they thought they had lost and their hopes for the future.

Who participated in the creation of this installation? And what were some of the goals in creating it?

The planning committee included myself and student staff at the Beaumier Center, faculty and staff in the Center for Native American Studies at NMU, members of the Native American Student Association, the Great Lakes Peace Center, and the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan. Our goal was to help the public understand what the concept of decolonization means, how the Anishinaabe people want it to happen, and how we all can be part of this experience.

What does an Anishinaabe decolonized experience look like? How does the installation capture different views on what a decolonized Anishinaabe experience can look like?

Early in our planning we realized that one of the challenges of the exhibition was that the room we were going to display the exhibition is a very colonized space in that the walls are all straight. This included the temporary walls. So we decided to create a circle within a trapezoid, if you will. The outer walls, which the time-line runs across for over 50 feet, represent the colonization of the Indigenous people and the land. In the center of the room are four large semi-circular fabric stands that feature Anishinaabe artwork. These represent the circle which is so important to the Anishinaabe. Within that is a space which serves as a sharing space, or as we call it, the Eight Fire, which is what the seven prophecies claimed would exist when all the world’s people gathered to solve the problems together in harmony. On the inside of the semi-circular banner stands are videos about various aspects of decolonization. There is also an introductory video when one enters the space.

What have been some of the most rewarding experiences in creating this installation?

Working with all the different people on the planning committee and the students who created the artwork and conducted research. Also, interviewing various Indigenous people for the videos in the exhibition. It was a powerful experience and one that I can say has truly changed me. I hope that it will have a similar effect on the public. I think the biggest change was in thinking that the views of the Anishinaabe and Americans are so different. I think we all really have the same goals and hopes for the future. We have to find a way to work together and listen to one another to find a path forward or else there will be dire consequences for not just humanity but all living things.

A traveling version of “The Seventh Fire” exhibition will be available to organizations across the Upper Peninsula beginning in the Spring of 2022. For more information on “The Seventh Fire,” please contact the Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center at 906-227-3212 or email heritage@nmu.edu. You can also visit the Center’s website.

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