Meet the new curator of the McCord Museum’s Indigenous cultures collection

Jonathan Lainey hopes his new position as curator of one of the largest museum collections of Indigenous archeological and historical artifacts in Canada will make room for more First Nations, Inuit and Métis voices and perspectives.

Lainey, a member of the Huron-Wendat Nation, was appointed as the curator of Indigenous cultures collection at Montreal’s McCord Museum at the beginning of the month.

The collection consists of over 16,500 objects recounting nearly 12,000 years of history of First Nations, Inuit and Métis across the country.

Clothing and accessories make up over a quarter of the historical objects in the collection, with the oldest dating back to the 18th century and the most recent being from the past 20 years. The collection also features everyday objects from the 19th and early 20th centuries such as bowls, spoons, baskets, weapons of war, masks and drums, as well as hunting and fishing equipment.

“I’m really excited to be here,” said Lainey, who grew up in Lac St. Jean, Que. 

“I have published three papers on their collection, and now I’m part of their team.”

It’s the first time an Indigenous person is in the position.

Suzanne Sauvage is president and chief executive officer of the McCord Museum. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

“He’s here to reinterpret this collection to help us show it in a different way, and Indigenize the museum further,” said Suzanne Sauvage, president and chief executive officer of the McCord Museum.

“We’ve taken a lot of steps to strengthen our relationship with Indigenous communities, and the arrival of Jonathan is just one step more in the right direction.”

Lainey is also no stranger to the McCord Museum. He said its archives were useful for his research on wampum belts two decades ago when he was pursuing a master’s degree at the Université Laval.

He said he has a passion for history.  After university, Lainey served as the curator of First Peoples at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., and worked as an archivist at Library and Archives Canada’s Indigenous Archives. 

Connecting with cultural objects

Now as curator of the collection at McCord, Lainey’s mandate will be to promote and bring a new perspective to the collection. Sauvage said he will play an active role in the museum’s ongoing process of Indigenization. 

“We do acknowledge that we are colonial institutions,” said Lainey.

Wearing our Identity – The First Peoples Collection is a permanent exhibition at the McCord Museum. (McCord Museum)

“The simple fact that we have all of these objects here is evidence of colonialism. Indigenous Peoples’ access to their collections is something really important. I’m not talking at this point about repatriation, but simply the fact that they can actually connect or reconnect with the materials of their cultures.”

His goal, he said ultimately is to make sure past and current Indigenous perspectives are well represented.

“Hiring Indigenous people in these important positions within the museum is a part of this. It’s clearly making room for these voices,” said Lainey. 

“The aim is not a final product, but a process. Changing minds, changing processes where we are going. It’s not something we can checkmark.”

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