In Canoe Cultures :: Ho’-ku-melh

This year we partnered with the Canoe Cultures project to present Canoe Cultures :: Ho’-ku-melh, curated by Roxanne Charles. The exhibition brings forward the voices of Indigenous communities, past and present. Historical texts and imagery are presented alongside contemporary artworks by Indigenous artists. The intention is to create a dialogue between historical representations of Indigenous canoe culture and modern Indigenous voices.

The second room of the exhibition features a prime example of the dialogue between art and archival imagery.  A large photograph depicts Squamish chief Joe Capilano and the delegation of Indigenous chiefs from B.C. preparing for their visit to England in 1906. They travelled to England to petition King Edward VII to have Canada repeal the Indian Act. The delegation was given only a 15-minute audience with the King.  And the request to repeal the Act was not granted. On the adjacent wall is a weaving created by Caitlyn Aleck of the Tsleil-Waututh nation. The piece is titled Creator, take us home.  It is the artist’s interpretation of the finding of the remains of children at Canadian residential schools this summer. The two canoes in the weaving symbolize the idea that the uncovering of the remains means the children who suffered and died at residential schools can be honoured and can return home to their creator.

Weaving hanging on a wall.

The design of the weaving is similar to the regalia worn by the delegation members in the archival image. While design elements connect the two pieces visually, there are deeper connections to explore. Chief Joe Capilano and the delegation were unsuccessful in convincing the King and Canadian government to lift the racist laws and policies that oppressed Indigenous communities. The reluctance of King Edward VII to repeal the Indian Act resulted in continued oppressive laws and policies such as the residential school system. The ramifications of these actions are still felt today. Creator, take us home shows that Indigenous people will continue to seek justice. It is also evidence that Indigenous cultures have survived incredible adversity.

While we might tell ourselves the world has changed since 1906, clearly much needs to be done for Canada to achieve reconciliation with Indigenous communities. Even in 2021, most Canadians are only beginning to understand the reality of what happened to Indigenous children at residential schools. This is something Indigenous communities have known for years.

Images:  (top) Cheif Joe Capilano and the delegation of Indigenous chiefs 1906. Photo: City of Vancouver Archives. (right) Creator, take us home by Caitlin Aleck.