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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Cannery days a chapter in the lives of the Heiltsuk Brown, Pamela Therese

Abstract

This thesis consists of an exhibit, Cannery Days - A Chapter In The Life Of The Heiltsuk which opened at the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology (MOA) in May 1993, and a written paper which discusses the processes and political issues involved in doing an exhibit on a subject that is not only complex, but poorly understood by the general public. The context of the exhibit and this paper is the failure of non-Native society to understand that fish were and continue to be the economic wealth of B.C. First Nations. Within this context, the related issue of the invisibility of First Nations women and men in the fish-processing industry is addressed through the exhibit using quotes, photographs, and text. The exhibit and this subsequent paper grew out of concern and unease about how First Nations and their relationship with fish have traditionally been presented in academic literature. The purpose of this thesis is to tell how my knowledge of the traditional fisheries, and my experience in the fishing and fish-processing industries, in combination with my training in the discipline of anthropology has been put to use in preparing an exhibit to tell about Heiltsuk people and fish. It will discuss the exhibit as a medium or bridge which allowed me to illustrate this relationship without diminishing the lives and experiences of Heiltsuk people. Interviews with seventeen Heiltsuk women, four Heiltsuk men and one long-time employee of B.C. Packers open a window on a period of history which has not been well documented. To read conventional accounts of Native involvement in the fish-processing industry, their lives were grey and dreary. The exhibit reveals that for the people who lived and worked in Namu, it was not just a place to work, it had many meanings and warm memories. Stages of the exhibit development from concept through mounting are described. Although the entire project took longer than I had anticipated, the exhibit was more rewarding for me than a conventional written thesis. In following a strict ethical review process to ensure that the people had more control over the way their story is told, I was able to see the value of collaboration between myself, MOA and most importantly, Heiltsuk people. This is seen in the quality of the results and because it allows First Nations to work with non-Native professionals in ways which maintain dignity and respect on both sides. Through a museum exhibit, I found a way to present a First Nations perspective that provides balance to written accounts. By putting a human face on the relationship between First Nations and fish, my exhibit was able to reach a wider audience. The exhibit had two major themes; the continuing importance of fish to First Nations culture and economy and the pivotal role of Heiltsuk people in the development of the fish processing industry. I find that this paper also has two themes. The first is an examination of the value of exhibits like Cannery Days in allowing First Nations to tell their own story. The second is an examination of my ability to function as an anthropologist without losing my identity as a First Nations woman. The exhibit was well received by academics, First Nations and the museum public. This leads me to believe in the value of continuing fruitful collaboration between Native and non-Native researchers.

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