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Mi'kmaw artists looking to highlight voices of elders for project about centralization

Sarah Prosper is a musician and dancer from Eskasoni First Nation.  (Devon Pennick-Reilly - image credit)
Sarah Prosper is a musician and dancer from Eskasoni First Nation. (Devon Pennick-Reilly - image credit)

Two Mi'kmaw women from Eskasoni First Nation are looking to record the voices of Indigenous elders for an art project that will reflect the history of centralization in Atlantic Canada in the 1940s.

Shawnee Paul and Sarah Prosper, who are both musicians and dancers, say they will use the recordings to educate people about centralization and hopefully create a dialogue around one of Canada's darkest moments.

"It's kind of like a faded area in our history where it's not shared often enough," Prosper said. "People don't really understand why reserves have been made, why [they're] only so big."

Centralization was a federal policy set in 1942 that forced Indigenous people in Atlantic Canada to live on centralized reserves. The policy relocated many Indigenous families to areas now known as Eskasoni, Elsipogtog, Sitansisk and Sipekne'katik.

Paul said the public narrative and understanding of centralization needs to be highlighted. She said years ago while on a band trip with Acadia University, she was having a conversation about centralization only to learn the person didn't know what she was referring to.

"I just realized — why doesn't anyone know that this has ever happened, when this is the biggest part of our cultural genocide and also the cycle of poverty that we're stuck in?"

Shawnee Paul says more people need to understand centralization and its impact.
Shawnee Paul says more people need to understand centralization and its impact.

Shawnee Paul says hearing elders's stories is essential to keeping the history of centralization alive. (Submitted by Sarah Prosper)

Prosper said after collecting the interviews and knowledge from elders, they will create a "stage story" performance that will focus on centralization. The production is in development for March.

"I don't think the message has been coming across clear enough, and the truth of what this has done," Prosper said.

Paul and Prosper said they share a relative who was centralized in the 1940s and grew up hearing about their challenges. Prosper said the displacement of the Mi'kmaq led to impoverished conditions that still impact communities today.

'They're not here forever' 

Prosper said elders have shared these stories at community events, and it's imperative to learn from them to heal and move forward.

"We made our call for elders who wanted to have a chance to express themselves," Prosper said. "There's lots of things that need to be heard and giving [them] space for that is really important because they're not here forever."

Paul and Prosper are still in the planning phases of the project but are hoping to connect with elders who have knowledge of the time period.

"If we reach one person and teach one person about centralization to that project, we'll be happy about it," Paul said.

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