Its impact is unquestionable. It sends a clear, and powerful message, that the Cree culture and people are characterized by a lastingness that has defined their past, and will continue to define their future. The Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute (ACCI), standing boldly at the centre of Oujé-Bougoumou, will serve to strengthen, solidify and preserve the Cree culture for generations to come.
The ACCI, designed by Native architect Douglas Cardinal through visioning sessions and collaboration with Elders, is inspired by the traditional sabtuan. Massive spruce beams make up the skeleton of the building, as they come together and crisscross over 20 feet in the air. Natural light flows through large skylights above the gathering area and the impressive glass walls on both ends.
The highlight of the ACCI is a remarkable exhibit featuring important aspects of traditional Cree life. Through the acquisition of Cree artifacts from museums around Canada and the world, the ACCI exhibit houses hunting equipment, clothing, tools and a plethora of items used in daily Cree life.
The exhibit also houses a massive Odeyak, a half-canoe and half-kayak, a testament to the five-year battle waged by the Eeyou and Inuit peoples to save the Great Whale River from hydroelectric projects. The Odeyak was so large, that the museum was actually built around it, as it never would have fit through the doors.
Based on the concept of aanischaa, the main purpose of the ACCI is to create a bridge between older and newer generations of Cree, in order to ensure the survival of its traditions, values and to pass down knowledge from its Elders.
In his dedication speech during the grand opening on June 8, Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come emphasized the importance of maintaining the bond between young Crees and their community.
“We have learned that when we send our children to school, although being a good thing in that they are getting an education, they are deprived of being out on the land, and vdon’t fully understand their parents’ way of life,” he said. “Instead of going down south or to Europe to see world museums, they can go in their own backyard. It’s a good way of promoting confidence and being proud of who you are and what your identity is.”
As well as being a bridge between generations, Coon Come described the ACCI as a bridge between the Cree and the rest of the world.
“We have to think beyond our borders,” he said. “With the government of Quebec planning to open up the territory with the Plan Nord…. there will be people coming in who won’t know who we are. This building will open the door for understanding… and a better appreciation of our history.”
The dedication ceremony also included a speech from Hydro-Québec President Thierry Vandal, who recounted memories of the late Chief Billy Diamond, who had taught him the importance of protecting the Cree lands during a fishing trip the two took together.
Assistant Deputy Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada Elizabeth Châtillon also spoke, fighting back tears in an emotional moment, reiterating the Prime Minister’s apology for the residential school system.
The institute is the culmination of nearly 15 years of work. Abel Bosum, director of the ACCI fundraising committee and who donated his time to the cause, described the process as “an emotional roller coaster”.
“It was difficult at first to convince the Elders on the idea of a museum because of respect for things that had passed,” he said. “We had to sell them on the idea that this was for the betterment of the Cree people.”
Along with money from the Cree Nation, Bosum went on to explain that the nearly $16 million project was only possible with the help of government funding and Hydro-Québec.