Dozens of people turned out for the 50th anniversary celebration of one of the London region’s most beloved historical sites and museums on Sunday.
Ska-Nah-Doht Village and Museum opened in 1973, and is a recreation of villages inhabited by the Haudenosaunee people roughly 1,000 years ago.
“50 years for a small-scale museum or gallery is a big deal,” said Alison Klages, Ska-Nah-Doht’s curator, who added that the area’s history makes the anniversary that much more significant.
“There is evidence of two Haudenosaunee longhouse villages that were right in this space from the years 800 to about 1200 Common Era.” The place name is comes from Oneida language, meaning, “the village stands again.”
Not only is the anniversary momentous due to the history of the area, but also due to the collaborations and relationships it has fostered, said Klages. Ska-Nah-Doht is built on a combination of archaeological and Indigenous knowledge.
“The whole motivation of celebrating our 50th is not only to remember the past, but also move us forward as good allies in the future and figuring out how we are changing our mission and evolving to better represent those that are here and the desires of the community,” said Klages, who added that heritage log cabins donated by the Oneida of the Thames, Chippewas of the Thames, and Muncie Delaware First Nations will soon be open to the public.
A beacon of education
Throughout its history, Ska-Nah-Doht has been teaching children from across southwestern Ontario about Indigenous culture and history.
“It’s evolved so much and I’m proud of what they’ve done,” said Glenn Stott, one of the four educators who founded Ska-Nah-Doht in 1973. “Everyone in southwestern Ontario has probably had an experience coming here in grade 3 or grade 4.”
The village and museum consistently hold events, host school field trips, and offer classes.
Beyond the imposing palisade wall that surrounds the village, are historically accurate longhouses and living areas. In the museum, artifacts recovered from real indigenous settlements are housed.
The landscape around the village is very different than when it was founded.
It’s located on what used to be a corn field. When the crops were removed, a forest was planted and work began on the village.
“I’m so proud to have been a part of that,” said Stott,
For some members of local Indigenous communities, the village is a point of pride as well.
Leona Antone is a member of the Warrior Womyn Drum Group, who played a part in the celebration by playing traditional drum music.
“Drumming together here gives a sense of sisterhood,” said Antone, who has been drumming since 2018. “It feels good, like it makes a lot of people happy. I feel happy too.”
Being able to share her culture in places like Ska-Nah-Doht is important to Antone. Sunday was her first time back at the village since her mother and sister passed away, revisiting a place where they spent time together.
“I haven’t been for about 16 years. We used to go and walk through the trails and pick medicines and stuff like that, so it’s nice to come back,” she said.
For others, like Steve Maracle, the celebration was an opportunity to support a local cultural site, and share his Woodland style art.
“I actually did my very first paint night here last year as a host,” said Maracle. “Ska-Nah-Doht is pretty close to my heart. I’ve been coming here all my life and to be asked to be a vendor here was pretty special.”
Like he does with his art, Maracle hopes Ska-Nah-Doht will endure, and teach generations to come about Indigenous culture.
“This place is pretty sacred to our Indigenous culture,” he said. “It’s a beautiful place.”