A collaboration between a Mi’kmaw educator and the multinational furniture store Ikea is giving shoppers a glimpse inside a modern Mi’kmaw home.
John R. Sylliboy, an educator of Eskasoni and Millbrook First Nations in Nova Scotia, collaborated with staff at the Ikea location near Halifax to decorate a section of the showroom with items that represent Mi’kmaw traditional territory and national pride.
“I think what we try to do with the showroom is capture a moment of time in a [Mi’kmaw] family,” said Sylliboy.
“It was an opportunity to take a time and space and integrate it into a contemporary understanding of who we are, and also expand on … how important it is to have space, be recognized and acknowledge the First Peoples here.”
Sylliboy said staff at the store worked with him over six months.
“We turned it into a proactive way of approach rather than becoming defensive and saying, ‘OK, they just want to use our images and symbols to sell products,'” he said.
Sylliboy sourced items like basketry and other artwork, traditional medicines and photos directly from community members and his family. His niece Tehya Milliea contributed her fancy shawl regalia, which is locked in a glass case.
“It makes me really happy,” Milliea said.
“I feel like when anyone thinks about [First Nations] people as a whole, they’re like, ‘Oh, those ones that used to live in teepees.’ We live normally. We don’t still live in teepees.”
David Duplisea, commercial activity manager at the Ikea Halifax location, proposed the collaboration with Sylliboy after an Ikea in Edmonton launched a similar initiative.
“We knew it would take a lot of time; we knew there would be a lot of hard conversations to have,” said Duplisea.
“It wasn’t necessarily a quantitative how many sofas we can sell by doing this project. It was how many lives can we touch?”
Duplisea said he’s grateful to Sylliboy and the Mi’kmaw community for the “reflection and learning” given to Ikea staff members.
“The final results are more than overwhelming. We’ve had customers walk through and get rather emotional. We’ve had co-workers walk through. I’ve shed tears through this process.”
Take a look inside the Mi’kmaw showroom at Ikea:
Educator takes Halifax Ikea shoppers inside a Mi’kmaw home
The display is expected to remain in the showroom for up to nine months. Sylliboy said he’s hoping Ikea will continue to incorporate Nova Scotia’s many diverse communities.
“We have allies and all other kinds of treaty people here as well,” he said.
“For example, African Nova Scotians, Gaelic cultures. We have people who are Acadian, and all kinds of people that we can celebrate in these rooms.”