Cultural Connections Colleen Paul discovers a personal connection to her past at the National Museum of History

Colleen Paul is a Client Intake Officer with the Department of Education and Training at QFN. On a recent trip to Ottawa for Connexus, a conference for education professionals, Colleen went on a journey to find family artifacts that she'd heard were on display at the National Museum of History. What she found brought her back to her childhood, and to the treasured cultural history of her Mi'kmaq family.

"Culture is central to identity, it defines who we are, how we think, how we communicate, what we value and what is important to us. Connecting with culture can be the most powerful thing we can do for ourselves.”
Colleen Paul's Great Grandparents, John Paul Senior and his wife Annie
"My Great Grandfather, John Paul Senior, was Mi’kmaw. He was born in Burnt Church (NB) but he was reared up in Eskasoni (NS). He came across to the island of Newfoundland, through the Bay St. George area. My grandfather was later born in Burgeo and today, generations of Paul's have settled in the Exploits region."
Colleen Paul's Great Aunt Mag (Margaret Paul)

It was Colleen's great grandmother, Annie, who made the doll that Margaret Paul is holding in the picture above. It was storied that this doll was one of the items Colleen's great grandfather had traded with an American explorer and anthropologist, Frank Speck who was in central Newfoundland in 1914 while touring the island. Paul's great grandfather guided him into the interior and showed him where the abandoned Beothuk campsites were. When they parted ways, they made a trade.

"I'm not sure what my great grandfather got in return for this trade but Speck left with this doll, a caribou skin coat and moccasins and a pair of snowshoes."

When Speck passed, many of the possessions he had acquired on his travels, many of them carefully cataloged, were donated to the National Museum of History. Colleen's family hoped that the items traded more than a hundred years ago might be part of the museums collection, and that they could again see these treasures from the past.

“My intention was to visit the museum with hopes of locating the family artifacts but I didn’t allow myself to get too excited. I didn’t want to be disappointed if they weren’t there."
Lost and found. With the help of one of the museum's curators, Colleen Paul found her Great Aunt Mag's doll on display at the National Museum
“My heart was beating out of my chest. I couldn’t believe that before my very eyes was her doll. The one image that had become etched in my mind forever, here it was, so real and tangible. I stared at the doll crafted by my Great Grandmother and all I could hear was my inner self speaking to me. Look at her hard work, look at her knowledge, her creativity, her determination but most importantly, her presence was right there before my very own eyes.”
The National Museum believes that the doll, painted with red ochre, may represent a Beothuk person, and that the Beothuk memory is kept alive by Newfoundland Mi'kmaw communities.
"The curator showed me around to discover many Mi'kmaq cultural items from Newfoundland. There were items from St. George's, and I was able to locate the caribou moccasins and coat and the snowshoes that my great grandfather had traded as well."

Leaving the exhibit, Paul noticed a beautiful light shade depicting a community drum. Under the drum were pieces of birch draped in skins.

“I sat on the birch log feeling overwhelmed at the connection and at that moment, the Mi’kmaq Honor Song began from the ceiling above me. A sense of pride, peace and serenity came over me. I sat and listened to the song, sang along in honor of all my ancestors but especially my Great Grandmother, Annie Butt Bowns Paul, and her lesson on how crucial, healing and necessary connection really is”"


Photos provided by Colleen Paul

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