ROM’s newly reopened Indigenous galleries ‘a great beginning’

With the renewed Daphne Cockwell Gallery of Canada, now free of charge, the museum takes a step toward closing the rift between Indigenous communities and mainstream society, writes Murray Whyte.

The Royal Ontario Museum reopened its Daphne Cockwell Gallery of Canada, devoted to Indigenous art and culture, following years of consultation with its Indigenous advisory board. (ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE / TORONTO STAR)

A pea-sized pebble, earthy brown and polished smooth, sits next to my keyboard as I write this, alongside a pinch of tobacco, bound in bright yellow fabric and tied up with ribbon.

They’re gifts from a group of Indigenous children, who passed them out to everyone who came to the Royal Ontario Museum’s grand reopening of its Canadian galleries Wednesday morning and, for me, the generosity astounds: a people from whom so much was taken, still willing to give.

To not take it personally seems to miss the point. Just before the crowd settled into its seat, Louise Profeit-LeBlanc, who is Tlingit, and Clayton Shirt, who is Anishinaabe, led the group in a smudging ceremony in the museum’s new space. We formed a circle, at Profeit-LeBlanc’s request, and Shirt walked slowly around, a thatch of smouldering sweetgrass in his hand, offered to each one of us as a purifying rite.