UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Rock art of Nlaka'pamux : indigenous theory and practice on the British Columbia Plateau Arnett, Christopher Anderson


The ethnographic and archaeological data on Nlaka’pamux Interior Salish rock art is among the richest of its kind in North America and offers a rare opportunity to study indigenous rock art in the historical and cultural context of its production. Direct historical and cultural continuity offer the advantage of foregrounding indigenous taxonomy and interpretation. With multiple sources available (ethnographic texts, historical texts, archaeological data and localized indigenous knowledge) Nlaka’pamux rock art can be detached from western theory and studied empirically (temporally and spatially) as a material signature of practice within a circumscribed territory. Nlaka’pamux rock painting, according to oral tradition, is an ancient practice. Many rock paintings visible today appeared on certain landforms after the arrival of Europeans and pathogens (smallpox) on the east coast of North America. Oral traditions state that Nlaka’pamux knew of European presence prior to face to face contact and took active measures to mitigate the impact using culturally prescribed means —speeches, dances and rock painting which occurred at 50 or so locations throughout the territory along travel corridors as early as the 16th century and into the 20th century. In all its phases, Nlaka’pamux rock painting is a pro-active historically contingent act of intervention with protection, demographic revitalization and intergenerational memory in mind.

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