Village News

Museum as Peace Institute

  • Gary Dyck, Blog Coordinator
  • Executive Director, MHV

Part four in a series on the roles of museums

Knowing how to be a peacemaker does not come naturally. It doesn’t just happen. As an individual who witnessed the beginning of a genocide, it didn’t take long before I realized I had a lot to learn. A community is necessary to hold and pass on what has been learned during times of violence. Deep and relevant ways of living and thinking for peace are developed during such times. We need to remember what the peacemakers before us experienced and learned so that we can do the same and more in our context. Violence and bullying are not far from each one of us.

Walter Wink puts it this way, “non-violent training needs to become a regular and repetitive component of every change-oriented group’s life; it is not a last-minute strategy that can be donned at will like an asbestos suit.” The movement of peacemakers like Ghandi and Martin Luther King did not happen overnight, but over years and with much training. The third way of non-violence is not a simple acquiescence to not having any engagement with a violent enemy, but a complex and profound work of one’s own heart in being able to keep seeing the enemy as a fellow human and to be ready to suffer in a way that can likely produce transformation for all involved in the conflict.

At the Mennonite Heritage Village, we recently added a Peace Exhibit Committee to our workforce. This group of volunteers are helping us develop an exhibit near the pond to be completed with an outdoor classroom structure. The goal is to have groups come to the site for teaching and discussion on issues of violence and peace in our current world. They have already placed a beautiful sculpture of the Dirk Willems saga, produced by Peter Sawatzky.

In support of this new endeavour, I’m happy to announce that we obtained the rights to host a Kauffman Museum exhibit from Kansas called “Voices of Conscience”. It displays how people of peace dealt with the coercive propaganda of the U.S. war office during World War One. The exhibit raises many good questions.

Brooklyn Friesen, a writer for the MB Herald, visited the exhibit when it was in Winnipeg:

The story of four Hutterite men imprisoned in Alcatraz for refusing to participate in war is made even more powerful by the prison cell built in the corner [of the exhibit].

You can not only read about ‘The Hole,’ but go in and sit on the cot as I did. I looked at the folded uniform on the floor. The men refused to put it on and were punished for it. The bodies of Joseph and Michael Hofer, who died of mistreatment, were returned to their families, dressed in full military uniform.

I sat in that cell in quiet reverence. I wondered if I could make the choices they made. I wondered if I may ever have to.

It might seem, to those of us who have never experienced living in a country at war, that conscientious objection isn’t applicable to our lives today. What I came to understand through the Voices of Conscience exhibit is that simply isn’t true. There is still violence in the world.

On November 10th (Peace Sunday), we will host a grand opening of the exhibit including a presentation by the developer of the exhibit and a faspa meal at 5pm. Admission to the exhibit will be available until December 20th and donations to our peace project are quite welcomed and needed.