Vancouver has grown up on unceded Coast Salish territory. It is therefore fitting that an exhibition featuring c̓əsnaʔəm, an important ancestral village of the Musqueam First Nation, be the first story of our Vancouver history galleries.
c̓əsnaʔəm, known to archaeologists variously as the Eburne Midden, Great Fraser Midden, and Marpole Midden, recently made headlines when ancient burials were uncovered through urban development and the Musqueam strove to protect them. This collaborative project aims to generate public discussions about heritage and Indigenous history, and to raise awareness of the significance of c̓əsnaʔəm for the Musqueam people and for Vancouver.
The curatorial premise of this project is simple: the bone, stone, and shell objects from c̓əsnaʔəm, which have survived thousands of years, are great catalysts for conversations about the relationship between Indigenous and settler societies in Vancouver. They are reminders of the connections between the history of colonialism, and the continuum of Musqueam culture. During the 1920s and 1930s, the Art, Historical and Scientific Association of Vancouver (MOV’s predecessor) undertook excavations at the Marpole Midden and removed over 1,500 “artefacts” for the museum’s displays, discarding others. The presence of these objects or “belongings” as this exhibition calls them since they were, in fact, personal possessions and ancestral remains in the museum’s collections point to an unsettling history. The museum constructed a story about Vancouver’s past that distanced and excluded the Musqueam, viewing the village as an ancient forerunner to Vancouver instead of as a place of ongoing significance to Musqueam. This exhibition re-examines the historical collection and display practices of the museum itself within this context of colonialism.
The exhibition asks, who's home is Vancouver? How have newcomers claimed Vancouver as their own? How do the Musqueam understand their lengthy connection to this place? Generations of families have lived at c̓əsnaʔəm and other areas in the territory for thousands of years. The exhibition evokes this concept of home through design components that reference a Coast Salish longhouse: a site of residence as well as of political, economic, and ceremonial activities. For the Musqueam, home is much more than a physical space; it is what connects individuals to a much broader web of family relationships and territory.
Oral traditions and Indigenous languages are a central vehicle of cultural expression and identity and play an important role in the exhibition. Visitors are invited to pronounce hən’q’əmin’əm’ words, view an animated version of a Musqueam story, and “meet” several community members through a series of recorded interviews. Displays incorporating 3D digital modelling allow visitors to visualize the context in which cultural objects were used. Visitors can also participate in association games and activities designed for families. Throughout this exploration, visitors are invited to reflect upon Vancouver’s history.
As Musqueam cultural advisor Larry Grant explains, “c̓əsnaʔəm: the city before the city aims at ‘righting history’ by creating a space for Musqueam to share their knowledge, culture and history and to highlight the community’s role in shaping the City of Vancouver.”