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Can we mend thousands of years of displaced history in Vancouver?

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Sturgeon Harpoon by Morgan Guerin

Sturgeon Harpoon made by Morgan Guerin at Musqueam Education Centre

"Many times people are buried with their things that are important to them or to the family that is putting away their loved ones. For that person to be in the other world, in the spiritual world, they need their belongings in order to use them. Those things belonged to somebody, they didn't just appear in some pile of dirt. They belonged to someone and that's how it was always explained to us." - Larry Grant, Musqueam elder

In the late 1800s, a large number of ancestral remains were uncovered. In the 1920s and 1930s some were discarded because of a lack of space at the local museum. Ancestral remains were also sent to the Royal College of Surgeons in London England and to other museums in North America. 

In 2012, Musqueam ancestral remains were unearthed during the early stages of a condo development on southwest Marine Drive. In order to stop the development, Musqueam community members and supporters held a vigil in protest for over 200 days. These efforts eventually led to the Musqueam people purchasing this portion of c̓əsnaʔəm to protect it. 

View from Arthur Laing Bridge onramp. Protectors standing vigil outside the construction fences at c̓əsnaʔəm excavations to ensure Musqueam’s ancestors are not disturbed. Photographer: Rhiannon Bennett

View from Arthur Laing Bridge onramp. Protectors standing vigil outside the construction fences at c̓əsnaʔəm excavations to ensure Musqueam’s ancestors are not disturbed.
Photo by: Rhiannon Bennett

Learning how to hear this living history 

The curators of the c̓əsnaʔəm exhibits have have worked to identify belongings and ancestral remains all over the world. According to Musqueam Archivist Jason Woolman, they have not recovered them all. However, replicas and images have been created of lost belongings. They welcome their return and will work towards that.

Oral history is usually more accurate, because you have to say it out loud in front of other people. You can't just write it down in private and store it in some archives. - Larry Grant

At the opening night of c̓əsnaʔəm, I spoke with Victor Guerin, who is the Lead Language Resource Officer with Tsleil-Waututh First Nation and a member of the Musqueam First Nation. I also spoke with Henry Charles, who is a First Nations Story Teller and Historian Musqueam speaker. They each discussed their roles in the living history on display. Victor shared stories of restoring the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ traditional language. Jill Campbell and Larry Grant have been leading this language revitalization and teaching the language in conjunction with UBC. Observers were captivated by Victor as he explained the sounds and meaning while pointing to the alphabet below. He is proud to be restoring this language that has been endangered for many years.

Henry pointed to images on the wall of the museum and identified his relatives with pride and warmth. "This is my family," he exclaimed. Henry got his picture taken with the etching of his great-great-grandfather that is at the forefront of the historical narrative on display. This is also the grandparent and relative of many Musqueam community members. These exhibits are a living breathing history that never died. These are family members that were never forgotten. It is time for our collective historical narrative to be mended. 

These exhibits demonstrate the importance of connecting ourselves to our own history. We need to acknowledge and remember, so that we can truthfully locate ourselves in time and learn how to move forward together.

Learn more here: c̓əsnaʔəm: the city before the city




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