Indigenous perspective, community involvement central to climate change activism exhibit

by Kathy Johnson

When South Shore Tourism Cooperative member organization Cape Sable Historical Society partnered
with museum studies PhD student Shauna Allen in 2022 to create a climate change activism exhibit,
including an Indigenous perspective and involvement from the community were key.

“We didn’t want it to just be another exhibit on climate change. We wanted it to have elements of
grassroots involvement reflective of strong activist work,” says Allen.

There are two components to the exhibit, which is on display at the Barrington Museum Complex in
the Old Court House Museum, explains Allen. “The first was information, science and facts about
climate change with a little bit of local focus looking at changing shorelines and rising sea levels in the
Municipality of Barrington. The second component is the arts activism section. Working with Scotian
Shores we took garbage from a beach clean up to make the equivalent of campaign posters.”

Founded in 2020 by Eastern Passage resident Angela Riley, Scotian Shores has grown into a
community of ocean warriors dedicated to cleaning Nova Scotia’s shorelines and raising awareness of
the plastic pollution crisis. In the last two years Scotian Shores has removed more than 200,000 pounds
of shoreline debris.
“Education is a huge part of preventing this,” says Riley, who jumped at the opportunity to be involved
in the climate change exhibit project. “It’s little things like that, that just get people talking,” she said.
Allen said both she and Barrington Museum Complex executive director Sam Brannen also felt it was
important to include an Indigenous perspective so they commissioned an art installment by Mi ‘maki
Nova Scotia artist Madisyn Snow to be part of the exhibit.

The result was two digital graphics that work together. “The two images are meant to be hung one
above the other,” says Allen. “One image is a sea turtle caught in a plastic bag and garbage in the sea
and the other is an eagle in flight over a fire and oil derricks. Not only did she comment to the impact of
climate change, she really did take that activist approach to it, speaking to some of the concerns,
controversaries and causes of climate change. In her artist’s description she really spoke to the human
impact on climate change and the damage we are having on our planet and the inaction to do something about it.”

Snow writes in the exhibit: “Our skies are thick with pollution, the land scorched by fire and the sea
suffocated with oil, chemicals, and plastic. Look closely and notice there are no humans, and very little
wildlife left. With our climate changing, this is what the end result of irreversible damage could look like.
This could be the dark future for all life as we know it if we don’t change soon. So do what you can NOW
and be the change.”

Brannen said the Barrington Museum Complex feels it is important to include “marginalized voices
across the board whether its Black, Acadian, Mi’kmaw and any other cultural group in whatever we do,
whether it’s in regards to exhibits, policy, boards or committees. We want to make sure we have
accurate representation of these groups with their voices at the table,” she said.

When the Truth and Reconciliation Report came out, decolonizing our perspectives in museums was
one of the recommendations made, says Brannen. “Generally speaking, we have been colonized
minded, white minded and not telling stories of different cultural groups with their voices so we can
talk about Mi’kmaw but if we’re not doing it with the partnership of a Mi’kmaw person it’s rather
disingenuous. We’re speaking over someone rather than them being part of the conversation and
talking about their own collection.”

Brannen said the Barrington Museum Complex is hoping to make some good connections through the
Mi’kmaw Cultural Center so they can facilitate celebrations, exhibits and programming in the area such
as a blanket exercise which is “a very powerful group exercise that teaches about the atrocities
committed on Indigenous people across North America. I think it would do a world of good for young
people who are going to be the ones who change everything, if we can make then understand the
history by the people who are descendants of the people affected by residential schools, the Indian Act
and reserves.”

One of the main exhibits in the Old Court House Museum is a Mi’kmaw exhibit done in partnership
with Acadia First Nations member Jeanette Nickerson. “Jeanette came to the museum and we went
through our Mi’kmaw collection. She smudged each artifact as well as our space. She gave our staff an
opportunity to be smudged and explained the entire process. She’s been a great friend and colleague of
the Barrington Museum Complex,” says Brannen.

The table top climate change exhibit was developed with the potential to become a travelling
exhibition that could go to schools, where students could add to the activism art gallery, or even explore
the impact of climate change in their own area.
“The potential is there,” says Allen. “One of the last things I did before I left was to prepare some
program kits so we’re hoping that down the line Sam will be able to coordinate some school programs
with local schools to come see the exhibit and or to have her or someone else from the museum go into
the schools for an art activism project.”

In addition, “We want to build interpretive panels at some of our areas of concern predominately the
Fort Saint Louis site where the panel would include a place to put your phone and take a photograph to
track one particular area to see how much it is changing from year to year,” says Brannen.
The Barrington Museum Complex has created an Instagram profile (@BarrMusExhibits) and hashtag
for the exhibit (#barrmuseumartactivism and #barrmuseumclimateaction).

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