Journal of Interpretation Research
Volume 21, Number 2
Hot Interpretation of Controversial Topics at Batoche National Historic Site, Saskatchewan, Canada
Glen T. Hvenegaard
Heather J. Marshall
University of Alberta, Augustana Campus, 4901-46 Avenue
Camrose, AB T4V 2R3
Lakehead University, School of Outdoor Recreation, Parks & Tourism
955 Oliver Road, Thunder Bay, ON P7B 5E1
Historic sites can facilitate public interaction with controversial topics through “hot interpretation” that promotes affective responses. The goal of this article is to critically analyze the evolution of interpretive messaging of the armed resistance of 1885 at Batoche National Historic Site, Canada, through the lens of hot interpretation. Based on a literature review, interpretation evaluations, and site visits, the authors examine how collaborative management approaches have fostered an evolution in interpretation from the one-truth, to parallel narratives, and finally to the “many voices” approach within the hot interpretation framework. This overview suggest how collaborative management approaches and progressive interpretation strategies can heal the hurt of the past, validate various depictions of history, provide venues for democratic discourse about contested issues, generate new thinking, and support resilient communities.
hot interpretation, controversial topics, collaborative management, many voices approach, Batoche, 1885 resistance
Hot interpretation was introduced by environmental psychologist David Uzzell (1989) as a backlash to heritage and scientific interpretation as a purely objective and cognitive experience. Hot interpretation seeks to reintegrate the human and personal aspects of the events, people, places, and artifacts that shape both historical and natural sites. Uzzell and Ballantyne (1998) define hot interpretation as “interpretation that appreciates the need for and injects an affective component into its subject matter” (p. 154), and is especially relevant to sites that interpret emotive, challenging, or controversial content. This type of interpretation “prompts visitors to re-examine their own previously held beliefs and perceptions regarding specific social, environmental, or moral issues (Ballantyne, Packer, & Bond, 2012).
Uzzell and Ballantyne (1998) suggest that “issues which involve personal values, beliefs, interests, and memories will excite a degree of emotional arousal which needs to be recognised and addressed in interpretation” (p. 152). These emotional dimensions are often excluded from interpretation, but emotional engagement is influenced by many factors, such as time, place, abstraction, distance, and management (Uzzell & Ballantyne, 1998). Hot interpretation has a role to play in conveying the meaning and significance of heritage to visitors and in developing community among people affected by the issues being interpreted.
Issues that deal with personal values, beliefs, interests, and memories can be considered controversial. Several authors have written about interpretation at natural or historic sites dealing with topics that are controversial in nature (Cameron & Kelly, 2010). For example, interpretation of controversial topics occurs with a variety of events and locations, such as sites of conscience (e.g., jails, sites of critical protest events, internment camps; Kennedy, Ketz, & Dirtzu, 2014); ); Jewish ghettos (Uzzell & Ballantyne, 1998); battlefields (Winks, 1994; Pitcaithley, 2004; Hannam, 2006; Dinkelaker, 2011; Hayes, 2012; Rudy, 2011; Lemelin, Powys Whyte, Johansen, Higgins Desboilles, Wilson, & Hemmings, 2013); slavery (Aden, 2010; Kutzler, 2013); civil rights movements (Pitcaithley, 2005); forced relocation among Australian aborigines (Ballantyne et al., 2012); and apartheid in South Africa (Ballantyne & Uzzell 1993; Ballantyne, 2003).
In addition, social memory, personal values, and beliefs are involved in the interpretation of controversial resource management topics, and thus can be considered in the context of hot interpretation (Uzzell & Ballantyne, 1998). These topics include species introductions (Chlebnik & Redfield, 2014); sources of knowledge about rainforest ecology (Staiff et al., 2002); climate change (Burr, 2014; Melena 2014); industrial agriculture (Long, 2014); pest control (McEntee & Mortimer, 2013); and air quality (McEntee & Mortimer, 2013).
In designing programs and exhibitions that embrace hot interpretation, Ballantyne et al. (2012) suggest several strategies to improve effectiveness, including (p. 164):
- Narrative and personal storytelling should occupy a central place in hot interpretation and should provide multiple points of personal connection with visitors.
- Despair should be balanced with hope, providing visitors with a way to deal with their feelings and move forward.
- Presentation of historical evidence and balanced interpretation should leave visitors feeling educated, rather than persuaded.
- Providing a place or space for reflection should encourage visitors to personalize and internalize their learning.
- Focusing on the past to inform the future should provide visitors with a way of learning from the mistakes of others and contribute to building a better future for all.
In addition, other authors provide principles related to the interpretation of controversial topics. For example, Martin (2003) encourages interpreters to be careful of language use, to remember the authority of the sponsoring agency (but not to sacrifice one’s own integrity), to inform and inspire people to act, and to be prepared. Specific to interpreting climate change, Melena (2014) recommends that interpreters undertake a slow but determined start, know the resource, deal with tough questions, know the audience, meet visitors where they are, provide a safe environment, know how to disengage with difficult audience members, be prepared to share why there is hope, and use the relevance, passion, and energy of the controversy. Regarding controversial species introductions (e.g., wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park), Chlebnik and Redfield (2014) suggest that interpreters acknowledge the emotion, avoid being confrontational, know the facts, invite provocation, and be ready to back out. Last, Pitcaithley (2004) encourages interpreters to not shy away from controversial issues, but embrace them as opportunities for cognitive and emotional growth. More generally, Burr (2014) recommends that interpretive planners understand sociological attitudes and behaviors in planning interpretation for controversial topics. Overall, the hot interpretation approach deserves further implementation and subsequent scrutiny across a variety of settings, contexts, and delivery strategies. In short, Staiff et al. (2002) suggest that museums (and park nature centers) should be “places of confrontation, exploration, and debate” (p. 104).
This article summarizes the contested representation of a controversial historical event and examines how hot interpretation and a multiple voices approaches to history can give a more historically accurate picture of the 1885 Resistance at Batoche National Historic Site (NHS), Saskatchewan, Canada. To achieve this objective, the authors comprehensively assessed the concept of interpreting controversial topics through hot interpretation and principles for implementation. We describe the history, evolution, and criticisms of interpretation at Batoche NHS. Next we critique these efforts and changes in interpretation and offer new on-site strategies, both conceptual and practical, for interpretation at Batoche. We gathered information through a thorough literature review, conducted two on-site visits, documented current and past interpretation, and analyzed these interpretive efforts through the lens of hot interpretation.
This type of interpretive analysis is important today for a few reasons. First, park and historical interpretation needs to respond to societal changes in terms of contemporary historical understandings and delivery strategies, especially related to a multiple voices approach (Staiff et al., 2002). Second, interpretation of Canadian culture and controversial historical events continue to be influenced by the contributions and needs of both long-time Canadians and new Canadians, as mirrored in the parallel processes of settlement and immigration of the 1880s and today. Last, since Batoche NHS interprets an event that is commemorated in many other locations across Canada, it is valuable to examine how an approach embracing hot interpretation and multiple voices can be expanded to other similar sites or controversial parts of Canadian history.
Resistance History at Batoche
Before describing the events of the Batoche resistance, some broader national context is necessary (Bumsted, 2006). Following the Rupert’s Land Act of 1868, the Hudson’s Bay Company was preparing to transfer to the Dominion of Canada an area of land about one-third the size of the country. Many residents of the Red River Colony, including many Métis affected by past conflicts with the Hudson’s Bay Company over trading rights, were now concerned about their future under Canadian control. In particular, Métis worried about the influx of settlers from eastern Canada, previously unsuccessful negotiations with the Canadian government, and the potential that land surveys might result in the removal of their land rights (Redbird, 1980). In late 1869, Métis opposition groups halted the land surveyors and later proclaimed a provisional government, headed by Louis Riel. Following some armed conflict and the execution of an English-speaking settler from Ontario, the provisional government organized the territory of Assiniboia in March 1870 (Bumsted, 2006). Anxious to proceed with western settlement, the federal government negotiated with this Métis-led government, incorporating many of its demands when it formally created the province of Manitoba in May, 1870. However, in July-August, 1870, the Canadian government engaged the military to oversee the transition, forcing Louis Riel and his lieutenants to flee. Even though Métis land titles were guaranteed in the transition, later government mismanagement forced many Métis to move west (Bumsted, 2006).
By 1872, many Métis settled in the Batoche area, with the population growing to about 1,200 by 1885 (Parks Canada, 2015). Like their earlier history, there were many reasons for Métis unrest, including debate about the river-lot settlement pattern, difficulties in gaining legal land titles, and poor representation in territorial and federal politics (McCullough, 2002; Hildebrandt, 2012). In addition, the federal government’s unwillingness to recognize treaty promises with First Nations and provide adequate support to farmers in western Canada further compounded these east-west tensions (Parks Canada, 2009a; Hildebrandt, 2012) and precipitated the establishment of a provisional Métis government in Saskatchewan. Tensions between the Métis and the Dominion government led to an armed uprising in 1885, involving Métis, Cree, and some Dakota. Louis Riel, who led the 1870 resistance, was invited to assist in the struggle by leading the provisional government of Saskatchewan (McCullough, 2002).
Beginning on March 26, 1885 at Duck Lake, and featuring armed confrontations at Cut Knife Hill and Tourond’s Coulee/Fish Creek, the event culminated with the siege of Batoche (May 9–12) by the federal government’s North West Field Force (led by Major General Middleton), where the Métis and First Nation allies (led by Cree Chiefs Big Bear and Poundmaker) were subsequently defeated. The surrender of Big Bear in July 1885 concluded the conflict (Hutton, 1996; Foster, 2013), which claimed the lives of more than 25 members of the militia, Cree and Métis forces, and Canadian citizens (Parks Canada, 2009a).
Chiefs Poundmaker and Big Bear along with the Métis leader, Louis Riel, were incarcerated. Riel, who had been exiled following the Manitoba resistance, was later convicted of treason and hanged along with eight First Nation allies in Regina on November 16, 1885 (Osborne, 2002). Gabriel Dumont, the Métis military leader, who, after the battle of Batoche, had taken the women and children to safety in the USA, later received amnesty and was permitted to return to Batoche where he is now buried (Hutton, 1996; Préfontaine, 2011).
Many names are given to this event, including the Second Riel Rebellion, the North-West Rebellion, the North-West Uprising, and the North-West Resistance. Others use more biased terms, such as a blunder-filled event, an armed conflict, or an efficient military campaign (Foster, 2013). Regardless of the term used, the event conveys varying interpretations and emotional responses (Foster, 2013). Since the “resistance” is the preferred term used by the Métis and most governments in western Canada, it will be used here (Foster, 2013; Parks Canada, 2015).
Batoche National Historic Site
Parks Canada, the agency responsible for NHSs in Canada, protects the nationally significant examples of Canada’s natural and cultural heritage in national parks, national historic sites, national marine conservation areas, and related heritage areas in view of their special role in the lives of Canadians and the fabric of the nation (Government of Canada, 2000). Even though the Batoche site was abandoned by the Métis in the early 20th century, it was declared a NHS in 1923 because of its significance in the resistance of 1885. In addition to Batoche NHS, Parks Canada also designated other NHSs of the same time period connected with the resistance events, including Cut Knife (1923), the Battle of Tourond’s Coulee/Fish Creek (1923), Duck Lake (1924), and Frenchman Butte (1929). Many authors have examined the politics pertaining to the designation of Batoche as a NHS in Canada (Payment, 1983; Taylor, 1983; Hutton, 1996; Pelletier, 2006, Pannekoek, 2000, 2009; McCullough, 2002; Osborne 2001, 2002). Other authors have examined Batoche as tourism site (Ryan, 2007; Lemelin, Thompson-Carr, Johnston, Stewart, & Dawson, 2013).
The Batoche rectory was acquired by Parks Canada in 1955, a museum was opened in 1961, and the remains of the St. Antoine de Padouche Church were purchased in 1970 (McCullough, 2002). The designation of the Batoche NHS created some tension between Parks Canada, the federal agency mandated to manage the site, and the Métis Nation, especially since the Métis claimed ownership of Batoche as their ancestral capital. For example, Métis have gathered on an adjacent site each summer since 1971 in substantial numbers to celebrate “Back to Batoche Days” (Hutton, 1996). By 1976, Parks Canada had acquired land consisting of the village of Batoche, the shallow rifle depressions, the zareba and camp of General Middleton, Caron Sr. House, the Métis Mass Grave, and the tomb of Gabriel Dumont (Parks Canada, 2012). A visitor reception center featuring an exhibit hall, book store, cafeteria, and other sites (e.g., St. Antoine de Padouche church and its rectory, and graves of the Canadian militia) were added later. The site is now approximately 955 hectares in size (Parks Canada, 2015).
Among the employees working at Batoche NHS, four to six Métis work at the site in several seasonal and permanent positions (management, interpretation, maintenance), which includes costumed personnel re-enacting Métis life at Batoche. From visitation highs of approximately 20,000, the site is now visited by approximately 14,000 people annually (Parks Canada, 2015). The site is open from the middle of May to early October (Parks Canada, 2015).
The first management plan for Batoche NHS, developed in 1972, included an interpretive emphasis on lifestyles and struggles of the Métis at the time (McCullough, 2002). However, the second management plan in 1982 proposed the construction of a modern visitor reception centre, presenting the opportunity to feature various interpretations of the events. The new interpretive center was completed for the Centennial of the Battle in 1985 (McCullough, 2002). In 1998, a management approach recognizing the role of the Métis Nation–Saskatchewan began, and was formalized in the most recent management plans of 2000 and 2015 (Parks Canada, 2000, 2015). As a result, Batoche NHS has undertaken a shared management approach, meaning that both Parks Canada and the Métis Nation–Saskatchewan are responsible for ensuring the commemorative integrity of the NHS (Parks Canada, 2009b). A site possesses commemorative integrity when the resources related to site designation are not impaired or under threat, when the reasons for designation as a NHS are effectively communicated to the public, and when the site’s heritage values are fully respected (Parks Canada, 2013).
In addition, Batoche NHS (along with Battle of Tourond’s Coulee/Fish Creek NHS) and its resources are protected through adaptive management strategies (Parks Canada, 2009b). Adaptive management refers to a process by which institutional arrangements and various knowledge types “are tested and revised in a dynamic, ongoing, self-organised process of trial and error; adaptive co-management by definition is an inclusive and collaborative process in which stakeholders share management power and responsibility” (Carlsson & Berkes, 2005, p. 73). In the case of Batoche NHS and the Tourond’s Coulee/Fish Creek NHS, shared management approaches have been used to diversify interpretation strategies and integrate the Métis Nation into the management of these battlefields. These approaches have also permitted such rapprochements as the 1985 and 2010 ceremonies honouring all the soldiers and victims of the conflict. There is also a proposal to erect a Métis Veterans Memorial Monument at Batoche, honoring Métis servicemen and servicewomen.
Changing Interpretation at Batoche NHS
Parks Canada presents cultural heritage “through interpretive and educational programs for public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment, both for international visitors and the Canadian public, thereby enhancing pride, encouraging stewardship and giving expression to our identity as Canadians” (Government of Canada, 2000, p. 1). After more than a century of debate, the conflict between the Métis Provisional Government and the Canadian government remains a controversial topic and a place of contested history. Like interpretation at other sites with constructed values of natural or cultural features (Hvenegaard & Shultis, 2016), the content and approach to interpretation about Batoche has changed dramatically since the resistance, reflecting new understandings and shifts in cultural sensitivities. In particular, the reconstruction of Batoche “opened the possibility of broader social and economic interpretations of historic events, as opposed to the political and military interpretation which had been current in the pre-war period” (McCullough, 2002, p. 180). The interpretation at Batoche NHS, as we discuss next, shifted from a celebration of a military conquest to a recognition of the unique Métis history and culture (McCullough, 2002).
The Canadian government was quick to celebrate its victories in the resistance by unveiling in Ottawa on November 1, 1888, a monument to commemorate Privates Osgoode and Rogers, two Foot Guards killed in the battle of Cut Knife Hill, (Sibley, 2009). In addition, soon after establishment, each site was commemorated with a plaque, glorifying the exploits of the Canadian militia and the imperialistic western march of a young nation (McCullough 2002).
The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSBMBC), established in 1919 to commemorate key events, people, and places in Canadian history, played a role in interpreting the 1885 events. While 16 different sites are associated with the 1885 events, three key sites were highlighted. Batoche centers on the Métis role in the resistance, Cut Knife Hill focuses on the Native role, and Fort Battleford features the Euro-Canadian role (McCullough, 2002). The 1885 sites were initially interpreted in the 1920s as a product of expansionism in which Canada’s desire to form a transcontinental nation drove development westward. Part of the problem with the original Board was a belief in a “common national history” (2002, p. 163), seen from the point of view of the Canadian government and its military forces. Erroneous details, like the so-called Canadian victory at Cut Knife Hill, lack of mention of Riel and Dumont, the vilification of Poundmaker, and the absence of French translations, drew immediate criticism. The unveiling of the plaques caused a boycott by the Quebec delegation, and was denounced by a Prince Albert vicar as a “gross insult to the men who fought under Riel” (2002, p. 166). No initial consultation had been given to Métis veterans or white settlers who were still living in the area and had been present at the events. A combination of the ensuing Depression and the site’s contentious and troublesome nature delayed discussions for over a decade (McCullough 2002).
Until 1937, the HSBMBC was filled with English-speaking professionals from the Central Provinces with an expansionist viewpoint. However, while English historiography held to a Loyalist view that ignored the legitimacy of the Métis and Native people’s claims, French historiography saw the 1885 events as one of many confrontations between French and English (McCullough, 2002).
When Parks Canada bought the property and buildings at Batoche, there was no existing exhibit. Content for the exhibits was created over several years, and the museum officially opened in 1961. The main exhibit was titled “Conflict of Cultures” and traced the history of the Indigenous peoples, the Métis, and the European expansion. Métis people were presented as “children of the fur trade,” with no legal right to the land, just a historic claim “to their share of the plains” (McCullough, 2002, p. 184). The struggle presented was consistent with Stanley’s (1961) influential views on the resistance events, that they were clashes between primitive and civilized cultures, and a regional resistance to distant and apathetic governmental control (McCullough, 2002). The opening of the Batoche museum by then Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was a high-profile event, giving recognition to increasing Indigenous rights (having been given the right to vote two years prior) and the importance of valuing minority cultures. A year later, at a gathering of the Royal Regiment of Canada and Aboriginal leaders at Batoche, a representative of the Saskatchewan Métis recognized the men on both sides, but added that the issue of land rights was not yet satisfactory or settled (McCullough, 2002).
The 1972 management plan took greater strides towards understanding the Aboriginal stance by emphasizing the Métis perspective on actions and beliefs that created the events at Batoche. Period restoration, revised interpretation, and new facilities enabled this more holistic approach. Extensive recording of the oral history of the local Métis people, along with the Aboriginal activism of the late 1970s and early 1980s, converged to make Batoche a focal point of Métis culture (McCullough, 2002).
The statement of commemorative integrity for Batoche NHS was published in 1997 by Parks Canada (and reinforced in the 2015 draft management plan). In that statement, Batoche NHS is intended to commemorate the site of the armed conflict, the Métis community of the area, the Métis river lot land use patterns, and the national importance of the site to Canada’s history. The statement also summarized some of the historic values of importance to Canadian history (e.g., control of Western Canada, contributed to Quebec nationalism, clash of aspirations in the west) and Métis history (e.g., aspirations then and now, dispersal, politics, traditions of land tenure, self-government). Last, the statement indicated messages of national significance, including the military conflict, importance of the community of Batoche, the Métis provisional government, and the impact of the resistance on local, regional, and national history.
Batoche’s Management plan was revised in 2000 because the Métis Society of Saskatchewan (now the Métis Nation–Saskatchewan) wished to have more influence and a greater role at Batoche. A discussion forum led to a more formal agreement for the shared management of Batoche between Parks Canada and the Métis Nation. This generated funding for research, presentations of “alternative viewpoints” on the events that occurred at Batoche, and a mutual commitment to maintain the site’s commemorative integrity (Parks Canada, 2000). The Batoche management plan suggests that the visitor experience will range from general “awareness” to deeper “understanding” of the material, by using both “personal and non-personal means of communication along trails” between “interpretive nodes, and providing different messages” (Parks, 2000, p. 8). It also advocates the importance of “the cultural landscape and in situ cultural resources” as being “integral to the heritage presentation” (Parks 2000, p. 8).
Commemorative integrity includes the presentation of multiple viewpoints and perspectives, “informed by traditional knowledge, and later interpretations” (Parks Canada, 2000, p. 8) known to current Indigenous peoples. The presentation of these events as acts of rebellion against the Canadian government were balanced by the Métis view of the events as a desire to secure livelihood, own land, and receive respect for their cultural traditions. Batoche NHS seeks to give continuity and context for the social fabric and identity of the Métis people of Batoche. Social, religious, artistic, and commercial activity, along with Métis governance from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, are explored in conjunction with the associated landscape, patterns of land use, and transportation (Parks Canada, 2000).
The audio-visual presentation created for the centennial events is viewed by the NHS as the “core orientation to the site” (Parks Canada, 2000, p. 27). A collage of vivid stories and images, rather than “one authoritative description and explanation of an event (McCullough, 2002, p. 187), it incorporates multiple perspectives of various key leaders. In order to paint a broader expression of meaning, memory, and commemoration, it also brings to light how the resistance impacted the surrounding environment and the people involved (McCullough, 2002). Since the original projections, diorama, and scrim were too costly to update, this audio-visual presentation switched to a dual screen video in 2011 (Tracey Verishine, personal communication). The presentation still employs many characters voices and perspectives with similar content as the original.
In her critique of living history, Wall (2011) notes that a challenge often arises when historic sites and parks engage in the re-enactment of living histories by “celebrating Euro-American enterprise while relegating other people to supporting roles… reflecting contemporary social power relations… [and modelling]… ongoing tension between historical accuracy and mass entertainment” (p. 115). As explanation, living museums have a tendency to “stabilize dominant cultural identities and institutions rather than expanding [a] critical understanding of history” (p. 110). By contrast, this concern was not noted during the field observations at Batoche NHS. Indeed, most costumed interpreters were proud of their Métis ancestry and conveyed this information to visitors in both French and English.
As the Métis were deemed to be the focus of this particular site, First Nations’ perspectives were not consulted here, but are explored in greater detail elsewhere. Criticism surrounding Batoche is usually voiced by those who feel that Riel is being cast as a hero, while caricaturizing Sir John A. Macdonald and downplaying the general public support at the time for the military’s role in suppressing the uprising (McCullough, 2002). There seems to be little contention that MacDonald was willing to do anything to continue his vision of expansionism, and had little empathy for the Métis or Riel. Another criticism of interpretation at the site is that the backstory of the Métis and Riel (previous to 1885) is not talked about at Batoche; such interpretation is told primarily in Manitoba, in places such as the Saint-Boniface Museum and the Riel House and Lower Fort Garry National Historic Sites. A more complete account of the story should address the eastern perspectives and 1870 events in Manitoba that led to the 1885 resistance.
For Parks Canada dealing with issues of cultural heritage on which there is no agreed interpretation, “a balanced or ‘many voices’ approach may be the wisest course” (McCullough, 2002, p. 188). A many voices approach recognizes multiple perspectives in interpreting historical events, capitalizing on visitors’ willingness to engage in narratives and storytelling of people with direct experiences (Heyward, 2012). The evolution of the interpretation strategies at Batoche suggests that the contemporary many voices approach, through in-situ history, arts, and audiovisual programmes, provides an opportunity for numerous perspectives to be heard, thereby providing visitors with insight into “the Métis community through the one site that has come to symbolize so much to them” (Pannekoek, 2000, p. 214). This approach also favors dissonant heritage where discussions pertaining to heritage encourage multiple narratives so that visitors can be educated, challenged, and given the opportunity to select “those that resonate with their experiences” (Pannekoek, 2000, p. 208–209).
The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada had a primary role in much of the formal commemoration of Canadian history, and therefore, its collective memory. One of the issues is the ongoing politicking that vies for control of what those collective memories are, and what they say about Canada as a nation (McCullough, 2002). Alongside the dominant narrative run parallel narratives, or sub narratives that tell the story of minorities and marginalized characters of the story (Pannekoek, 2000). According to Pannekoek (2009), history has been shaped by a primarily “Canadian male-dominated narrative” and “has been managed and manipulated by Canada’s social elites, intellectual elites, and public institutions such as museums and heritage agencies” (p. 206). Reinforcing the ideals of the eastern establishment, these elites extricate “the threads of its ‘usable’ past to justify a culture of progress that masks Canada’s capitalist and imperialist system of inequity” (2009, p. 206). Pannekoek asks whether Canada is socially constructing a “useful past” (2009, p. 206) in the face of a fragile and multicultural society.
Another shortcoming of the NHS Boards, in Pannekoek’s view, is the general lack of self-reflection. The Boards fail to consider how the state impacts the commemorative memory, as well as the ways that such sites have impacted the local people and culture. Former NHS historian Walter Hildebrandt says that there is a tendency to propagate the myth that best captures the ideals or philosophies of the current nation. He advocates the many voices approach for a more dynamic and personalized view of history, as told from many angles and perspectives (Pannekoek, 2000).
Pannekoek also criticizes the lack of female perspective and voices in Canadian national history. He points to the perspective that the two captured, but unharmed white women involved in the resistance could contribute to the 1885 story. False accounts of their being molested during captivity has served to vilify and marginalize indigenous women, who were painted as threatening to white civilization. Such untruths should be part of the interpretation to demonstrate how issues of race and gender can be used for political gain. Another angle might be that of the Métis merchants, rather than solely presenting the professions of the whites surrounding Batoche (Pannekoek, 2000).
Reid (2008) says that Riel is a symbol of the binaries and dualities that exist within the Canadian identity amidst attempts to form a single discourse. As such, Riel represents in the Canadian imagination a hero “whose story is complex enough to appeal to the kind of fragmented society Canada has become”—a country of “subnationalisms, ethnic oppression, separatist movements” (p. 241). Although the creation of Canada is often believed to be rooted in compromise and peace, the Resistance of 1885 points to a contrasting aspect of Canadian heritage. While Riel was acknowledged as a Father of Confederation in 1996 by then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lloyd Axworthy, the promises made to the Métis that affirmed their full and equal right to participate in this country have only been partially realized (Reid, 2008). Even though Métis are considered as one of three Aboriginal Peoples in the Canadian Constitution, and the 2016 Supreme Court of Canada decision recognizes Métis as “Indians” under the Constitution Act of 1867, Métis still don’t have rights equal to Status Indians in Canada (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, 2016).
Complexity of Collective Memory
Cutler (2000) says that the past is foundational for cultural literacy, but advises that historians look closely at the message being conveyed through various artifacts and site commemoration. Are they creating a collective memory that gives new insights and multiple perspectives, or are they only serving to reinforce tradition and assimilation? Much previous historic understanding was based primarily on documents, rather than the narratives; archaeological and material evidence have fleshed out the story of cultures and their interactions in more recent historiography. Cutler advocates a means of scrutinizing whether the message remains elitist, univocal, or subject to the times from which it now speaks. As historian David Hamer noted, “the cultural bias in place at the time of preservation determines what is judged to be significant, often to the detriment of alternative versions of a district’s history. Lost in the shuffle are the years of survival which fall between the era of original significance and the time of preservation” (Cutler, 2000, p. 481). As Staiff et al. (2002) note, objects and events carry multiple meanings that are culturally constructed. Nevertheless, presenting too many details of the history can also be ambiguous and confusing. Still, Cutler (2000) concludes that some form of conversation can emerge between past and present people of an area. Ashley (2013) suggests that engagement with civic activities is much needed in this time of declining trust and reciprocity in order to build greater social capital. For example, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015) calls for museum policies to comply with the United Nations (2008) Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in which Article 31 states that “Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions” (p. 11).
In addressing the difficulty of truly understanding another culture, Shryock (2004) believes that there is an ethnographic refusal that dissociates the public with the “particulars of everyday life and an eagerness to engage, simultaneously and as a substitute, in critiques of an external, impinging power (the state, the empire, the West) and its gaze” (p. 13). This shift in cultural views has occurred in part because of the transnational communication and the interpretation that occurs with a “spatially dislocated audience” (Shryock, 2004, p. 14).
Butler (2008) says that the manner in which information is collected, artifacts are gathered, and how much collaboration and input is welcome, will all have an effect on the message that is conveyed. This is known as reflexive museology, which incorporates both the process and the methodology as having a significant impact on the outcome of the exhibit. For example, Batoche is seen as progressive because it involves the local community in both consultation and shared management. According to Verishine (personal communication) and the 2015 draft management plan, while Batoche doesn’t specifically speak to the current day thinking of Métis people, it does however, work closely with the local elders and community, as well as partnering with the Gabriel Dumont Institute, which promotes the renewal and development of Métis culture. The NHS seeks to complement the activities of Batoche Days—a large annual celebration of Métis culture—rather than being directly affiliated with the event.
Lynch and Alberti (2010) point out how museums must be aware of their subjective viewpoint. Often they can subtly delineate and reproduce the impacts of colonizer encountering colonized. Looking at the UK’s staffing of museum and libraries, a 2007 study “found them to be primarily ‘pale, male, and stale’, with more than ‘a whiff of institutional racism’” (2010, p. 15). Lynch and Alberti (2010) propose that staff see themselves as fellow citizens who interact with locals and minority groups through various “contact zones” that would allow for both collaborative and contested interpretation of ongoing exhibits.
Cameron (2011) proposed the idea of “liquid museums,” where numerous voices are deemed to be authoritative and multiple or even conflicting rationalities and techniques are employed. In short, Cameron suggests that the irreconcilable differences and messiness of pluralism should be allowed to co-exist, rather than trying to create a neat and tidy sense of collaboration. Even amongst Métis people around Batoche, there have always been mixed views on Riel and the events of 1885. Originally cast at the Batoche NHS as a hero, evidence of Riel’s instability when he returned to Canada shifted the focus away from Riel and onto the Métis culture (McCullough, 2002). Others support or question the role of Riel as the figurehead of Métis people or political movement. As Cameron proposes, there can and should be room for these conflicting views to exist, inter-culturally and individually.
Some of the more effective ways of engendering empathy toward another person’s story is through the use of personal accounts, diaries, and narrative storytelling to help visitors to identify with and re-examine their own beliefs. Ballantyne and others (2012) examined how the State Library of Queensland interpreted the forced removal of the “Stolen Generations” of Aboriginal children. While government documentation validated the pain experienced by the disrupted families, themes of despair were balanced with hope and resilience. Giving visitors a place to deal with the feelings of guilt, shame, and sadness that may be aroused through the exhibition process was also vital. One of the means of doing this was to create a “Visitor Response Wall,” where people could voice some of their reactions and responses, and allow visitors to become an active contributor to the exhibit (Ballantyne et al., 2012).
Connecting the Past and Present
The current Management Plan for Batoche NHS makes it clear that Parks Canada does not wish to be “the arbiter of Canadian history” (Parks Canada, 2000, p. 9), but offers a many voices approach which allows visitors to form their own opinions, based on what is presented. Pannekoek (2000) recognizes that conversations must emerge between past and present, but the process is still developing. For example, former Director General of Canadian NHSs, Christina Cameron, criticized Batoche for putting too much emphasis on the current Métis settlement there. While Cameron considers the battle, and the events leading up to it, as the theme of the site, Pannekoek (2000) submits that the resilience and survival of the Métis of Batoche are equally integral to the broader consequences of the battle and the continuing Métis story.
Pannekoek (2000) postulates that the 1885 resistance at Batoche may have been the inciting event in what he calls the criminalization of the Métis people. Following the 1885 resistance, and indeed after the 1870 Red River resistance, many Métis scattered due to a lack of food and, while some were able to find seasonal work, others lived as squatters in areas that had been purchased by the Crown, but not yet developed for roads. Métis people were never given a land base in the way that the First Nations were given reserve land. Although French, English, and Aboriginal people were recognized by the 1982 Constitution Act to have distinct rights, Métis rights have not had similar rights until the recent 2016 decision in Daniels v. Canada, where the Supreme Court of Canada found that the Métis were indeed entitled to the same benefits through Canadian Law as “Status Indians” (Adams, 2016; Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, 2016).
Rather than glossing over the events of 1885, there should be room at the Batoche NHS for “the emergent possibilities” of democratic dialogue, where conflict about “knowledge can be divisive, conflict-ridden, and unruly” (Ashley, 2013, p. 4). There should also be room for the history that followed the 1885 Resistance to cast an honest light on the current Métis community around Batoche. This is particularly vital now, as the Métis seek greater distinction from other Aboriginal peoples, and lay hold of their own unique identity.
The purpose of this article was to analyze how hot interpretation and a multiple voices approaches to history can give a more historically accurate picture of the 1885 Resistance at Batoche NHS. Parks Canada has a unique opportunity to position itself as a forum for discourse about broader topics of controversy and socially impactful issues through a hot interpretation approach. Fostering new kinds of citizen participation and honest dialogue about contested issues will facilitate the sustainability of the historical resources, local communities, and ecosystems. One of Uzzell and Ballantyne’s (1998) five components that impact a person’s emotional connection with an exhibit is time. On the one hand, the more time that has elapsed, the more difficult it is to connect with the issue or events. Events of the more distant past, with no living voice, can cause people to view them, and the suffering they may have caused, as distinctly foreign (Uzzell & Ballantyne, 1998). On the other hand, the same temporal distancing can also provide an opportunity to re-examine these issues from less culturally-loaded perspectives.
As a result, Batoche is moving towards an evolving and many voices approach that gives place to the multiple perspectives that can speak into and about history. Parks Canada could go a step further by giving voice to the continuing struggle of the Métis people of Batoche, bridging the gap between the past and an authentic, unidealized present. While there is evidence of interpretation shifts within the Parks Canada approach to the Batoche NHS, there is still room for improvement in interpreting a controversial past.
Ballantyne et al. (2012) suggest narratives and personal storytelling to promote many ways to personally connect to visitors. A multiple voices approach should continue to present historical evidence in a balanced fashion so that visitors gain insights on their own, rather than feeling persuaded. Batoche can provide unique opportunities of time or space to reflect on events of the past and their current and personal relevance. Similarly, by critically analyzing causes of the 1885 resistance, visitors can gain insights about historical complexities, but also learn how past actions influence the future. As Staiff et al. (2002) suggested for rainforest interpretation in Australia, Batoche NHS is a place of “contested and multiple meanings.”
Parks Canada has recognized how the language and content of interpretive exhibits at Batoche NHS can generate emotional responses, both positive and negative. Interpretive staff should constantly scrutinize their interpretation in light of new historical evidence and changing perspectives. Hot interpretation at Batoche can also make connections with present day events and issues, such as the “Back to Batoche Days” or the role of Métis veterans during the First World War Centenary. Such strategies will promote intergenerational interactions among Métis, promote deeper understanding of Métis history and culture, and commemorate the 1885 resistance (Métis Nation, 2015). Pitcaithley (2004) promotes a direct approach to controversial topics; future interpretive efforts could address the changing perceptions of the 1885 resistance in Canadian history. Batoche NHS offers many ways of interacting with hot topics beyond intellectual means. These interactions provide exciting possibilities for engagement with the emotional and human components of Canadian history, places, and people that have shaped—and will continue to shape—the social and cultural fabric of Canada. In the case of Batoche, hot interpretation can strengthen and re-define Métis culture in Canadian society (Redbird, 1980).
With respect to interpretive efforts and management, the current relationship between Parks Canada and the Métis Nation is good (Parks Canada, 2015), but Batoche NHS should continue to nurture and improve relationships with relevant Métis organizations such as Métis Nation–Saskatchewan and the Métis National Council. Batoche staff should also seek out insights from other parks implementing hot interpretation and, in turn, share insights with them about techniques employed and lessons learned. There are many valuable insights for other sites related to the 1885 resistance (eg. Hildebrandt, 1994) or that have adopted, or want to adopt, a hot interpretation approach. Last, Batoche should solicit feedback from visitors and Métis organizations about how efforts at hot interpretation support multiple perspectives, emotional responses, and respect for challenging stories.
Thanks to Tracey Verishine for filling in the gaps in history of the Batoche NHS. We also thank former Saskatoon high school teacher and local history buff, Marshall Whelan, for his thoughtful insight and comments about the 1885 events at Batoche.
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