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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Canada Customs, Each-you-eyh-ul Siem (?) : sights/sites of meaning in Musqueam weaving Fairchild, Alexa Suzanne


This thesis focuses on the production and display of weavings made by a small number of Musqueam women, who in the 1980s began weaving in the tradition of their ancestors. It addresses the way in which these weavings, positioned throughout Vancouver and worn in public settings, build a visual presence to counter the exclusion of Coast Salish cultural representations from the public construction of history in Vancouver and the discourse of Northwest Coast art. The Vancouver International Airport and the Museum of Anthropology at the University o f British Columbia both share with Musqueam a history of place. A distinct relationship fostered between Museum staff and members of the Musqueam community has yielded several exhibits since the first, Hands of Our Ancestors: The Revival of Weaving at Musqueam, opened in 1986. The presence of Musqueam material at the Museum is part of an extensive history of interaction and negotiation between Canadian museums and the cultural communities whose histories, traditions and material culture are represented - a history which encompasses issues of representation, authorship and authority. The Vancouver International Airport is also situated on Musqueam traditional territory. Designed by representatives from the Musqueam Cultural Committee and the Airport project team, the international arrivals area features works of contemporary Musqueam artists which are intended to create a sense of place with an emphasis on the distinctiveness of its location. Travelers cross several thresholds in the terminal - the sequence o f these crossings carefully choreographed so that deplaning passengers pass from the non-space of international transience to a culturally specific space marked by Musqueam's cultural representations, and then past Customs into Canada. Certain incidents at these sites indicate that visibility and self-representation do not in themselves answer the problems of power and history. When the Museum of Anthropology hosted a meeting for leaders of the Asia Pacific Economic Community in 1997, a newly implemented protocol agreement between Musqueam and the Museum was broken; and in a number of instances, achievements at the Airport have also been impaired. Despite these limits, weavings are not examples of token native inclusion as some critics argue. Rather, they are cultural representations strategically deployed by the Musqueam community. Enlarged from traditional blankets to monumental hangings, these weavings participate with other more recognized monumental Northwest Coast forms. They are visual, public signifiers of Musqueam identity which, without violating boundaries between public and private knowledge, carry messages from the community to a broader audience - messages intended to mark Musqueam's precedence in Vancouver's past as well as to claim visibility in the present.

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