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Pion-Era story in exhibit at Western Development Museum

The project began in 2018 and continued despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

SASKATOON — Cheryl Eagle was a bit emotional after seeing a portrait of her mother, June Eagle, among the over 50 photographs of previously unnamed Indigenous peoples at Pion-Era that are now part of the permanent exhibit at the Western Development Museum, which opened Tuesday night.

Eagle said her mother served in the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1961 to 1966. She then moved to Regina after being honourably discharged for serving her country. She worked there for the provincial government for 25 years.

“She was a real pioneer woman in the fact that being a First Nation, a woman, working in the provincial government and serving in the air force, all of these things led to my life being good. So, coming here and seeing her picture up there just gives me nothing but pride,” a teary-eyed Eagle told SASKTODAY.

She added that she would have loved to see the reaction of her mom to her photo as being part of the exhibit at WDM and it would have been a proud moment for the late air force veteran.

“My mother left us in June 2014. This is something that I would have loved to have her see. To be able to come here and be her witness, I guess. When I look through my eyes, they are the eyes of my mother. It’s an amazing thing and I know she’s here with me in spirit.”

Eagle said that the exhibit is a history lesson to all — Indigenous and non-Indigenous — something that should have been also taught in schools.

“The fact that you get to know the actual history of what happened, there’s just a sense of finally people hearing the whole truth not just the partial truth, but the entire truth.”

WDM curator Elizabeth Scott said it took them four years to complete the exhibit even through the height of the coronavirus pandemic back in 2020 and with the help of the Whitecap Dakota First Nation, highlighting the spirit of partnership and reconciliation.

“The project started when we saw a set of 14 photos that are already in the WDM corporate office storage area. From that initial number of photographs, we found another 16 more and that started this whole project,” Scott told SASKTODAY.

She then sought the help of others in the province, doing research and scouring through the archives all over Saskatchewan, particularly the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan, the StarPhoenix and Western Producer. Several photographs also came from the Whitecap Dakota First Nation community members. 

In one of the photos was 92-year-old veteran Willis Royal with his family celebrating the first birthday of his daughter, Bernice, who was born on July 4, 1959, in a teepee at Pion-Era.