Isaiah Wiltzen is only in his second year of university – and he has now curated his own exhibit, The Land Provides, at Fort Smith’s museum.
The exhibit’s grand opening is on Thursday night from 7-9pm. Masks are mandatory and capacity is limited to 25 people due to Covid-19. After that, the show will remain available until January.
Wiltzen, who is from Fort Smith and is a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, was the Northern Life Museum and Cultural Centre’s summer student this year. He stayed on at the museum after deciding to study from home during the pandemic.
“It talks about the relationship Indigenous people have with the land and how they have perfected that relationship,” he said of the exhibit, noting he’s been curating it since August.
“One of the first things I did was start reading some of the files and archival material that we have at the museum and building up my knowledge of the Indigenous relationships with the land,’ said Wiltzen. “And then finding photographs and artifacts that would relate to the sort of knowledge that I’ve learned, and then finding ways to share those artifacts and stories about Indigenous people and their land.”
Wiltsen chose pieces that represent Dene, Inuvialuit, and Métis culture.
“We have a collection of ancient arrowheads, some of them dating back approximately 3,000 years. We also have a model kayak made out of hide, which is pretty neat. And we also have an outfit made out of caribou hide, which is on display as well,” he highlighted.
While the upper level of the museum showcases a permanent exhibit on Fort Smith and local Indigenous nations’ traditional lifestyles, Wiltzen said his exhibit goes more into depth and “shows a little bit more of the culture of each group.”
“Isaiah has done an amazing job curating this exhibit and his hard work is shining through. We are very proud of his achievement and believe his example can inspire others as well,” the museum’s manager, Rohma Nawaz, told Cabin Radio.
“There’s a lot of excitement,” Wiltzen said a day before the opening, “but we’re also in a little bit of a rush to finish everything and make it look as presentable and great as it can.”
Credit for curation
The project will earn Wiltzen credit for his History 300 class at The King’s University, Edmonton.
“I talked to one of my professors about perhaps getting marks, changing an assignment from the standard one that is set to this exhibit, so I’m able to write a short essay about it and get marks for it,” he said.
Before he started curating the exhibit, Wiltzen said he was unsure where he wanted to take his career.
“After doing the time to create and curate the exhibit, it’s definitely piqued my interest in the field,” he said. “It’s made me more willing to work in the field of history in the future.”