UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

How to read the Bill Reid bill Decloedt, Jeffrey


This thesis argues that the First Nations and their material culture have been used as tropes in the construction of national symbols on Canadian money. The twenty dollar bill from the 2004 series of Canadian banknotes, Canadian Journeys, was the impetus for this inquiry. The art of Bill Reid is featured on this banknote. Reid is an artist who identifies, on his mother's side, with the Haida First Nations and his art takes its themes and style from the Haida crest imagery. The implications of utilizing a First Nations artist on a Canadian banknote becomes problematic when considering the antagonistic historical relationship Canada has had with the First Nations and the multiplicity of unresolved land claims. Therefore, I ask, how this Bill Reid banknote should be read. In answering this question I have divided this thesis into three parts. First, I analyze a historical precedent for this contemporary banknote. The 1870 two dollar bill is useful for it both gives an example of the use of First Nations as a trope in representing the nation and it helps expose the importance of money as a national symbol at the time when Canada was struggling to come together as a modern nation. In the next section I analyze the Bill Reid bill as both a part of a symbolic construction of nation and as a material practice which has regional or territorial implications. In the final section I argue that Bill Reid utilized the language commonly used for colonial justification to elevate his own practice. While carving out a market for his work Reid helped to reify nationally accepted histories concerning the First Nations—namely that they are culturally dead.

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