Mennonite Heritage Village

Mennonite and Indigenous Relations

April 13, 2023

By Rebecca Kornelson

Editor Note: In May a tipi will be built at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) with Tipi Joe and the SRSS Indigenous studies class. In the early decades of the Mennonite settlement there was annual contact with Indigenous people including tipis set up near Mennonite settlements. The following is a personal reflection from Rebecca Kornelson, the granddaughter of MHV founder John C. Reimer. To learn more about how we can improve Mennonite and Indigenous relations today, attend one of our ‘All My Relations’ April events listed below.

A long, long time ago an Indigenous grandmother went to a marshy area to get long supple willow branches and the smooth red dogwood branches to make baskets.  She and her family would use the baskets for collecting berries and herbs when they went foraging. The baskets were also useful for storing animal hides that were used for clothing and bedding. Centuries of making these baskets had perfected the art so they would remain useful.  They were lightweight for their nomadic lifestyle.

A time not so long ago, in the 1940s, 1950s and even 1960s an Indigenous grandmother named Mrs. Jonny came to the house of Almon and Annie Reimer. She said she was hungry so Mrs. Reimer gave her a meal, maybe a basic meal of fried potatoes, meatloaf, and peas. She chose to eat on the back porch of the house. Mrs. Jonny sold a lovely woven basket to her. Another time she came to the Reimer home and told Mrs. Reimer that she was tired and asked if she could take a nap somewhere. So, she had a nice nap on the couch in the living room.

Mrs. Jonny said she was the grandmother of Curtis Jonny. He was being fostered in the home of a Mrs. Klassen and had been there since he was four years old. He was Ojibway and came from the Roseau River Anishinaabe Reserve. Mrs. Klassen was a Mennonite woman. She raised him with love. When Curtis grew up he took his great grandfather’s name Shingoose. He first began to sing in church choirs. He became a well know singer till he died of COVID in 2021 at the age of 74. 

For many years a group of Indigenous people from the Roseau Reserve put up a camp of tipis on Mr. and Mrs. John D. Kornelson’s bush land at the corner of Road 34N and Road 32E in the RM of Hanover (south-west of Steinbach). Saskatoon berries were plentiful in this area, as were the mosquitoes. One autumn day an elderly woman came to the Kornelson house to ask for clothes for some of her family and for food. Agnes Kornelson gave her some clothes and food for which the woman was very grateful.  The woman promised to bring Agnes a basket in spring.  In spring she was back with the basket. Mrs. Kornelson also bought several other baskets from her. One large one was used as a baby basket for many Kornelson babies through the years. She also used them for storing yarn, blankets, and clothing. More than 70 years later these baskets are still strong, useful, and beautiful pieces of art.


Upcoming Events:

Anishinaabe Treaty Making – All My Relations series, Monday, April 17, 7pm, Dawnis Kennedy is a gifted speaker, scholar, and a member of the nearby Roseau River Anishinaabe First Nation. This is your opportunity to learn about the historical and current relevance of treaty making.

The Power of Story, All My Relations series, Tuesday April 25, 7pm – A film screening with award-winning Cree/Ojibwe film producer Erica Daniels. Come at 6:30pm to first enjoy some free dessert, coffee, and tea.

Volunteer Orientation, Thursday, April 27, 7pm. Time to get ready for a new season! An informational evening for new and current volunteers in the MHV Auditorium.

Spring Gala, May 12A fundraising banquet with VIP access to our new Russländer exhibit, a Mennonite quartet, and speaker Dorota Blumczyńska (CEO of Manitoba Museum) that is sure to inspire you. Tickets are $75 and will help MHV restore the foundation of our sinking Printery.

MHV Village Books & Gifts and Galleries are open Tuesday to Saturday. The heritage village and Livery Barn Restaurant will reopen May 1.