And They Called It Vancouver
Settler-Colonial Relationships to Indigenous Lands and Peoples
Contents: Note on Positionality | Note on Terminology | Continuing Impacts of Colonization | Acknowledgements | Tech
Note on Positionality
This exhibition was curated by Ashlynn Prasad, an Archives and Reference Assistant at UBC’s Rare Books and Special Collections. Ashlynn is a settler of South Asian heritage whose ancestors originally came from India and were brought to Fiji as indentured labourers of the British Empire in the late 1800s. Her parents moved from Fiji to Blackfoot land and then Cree land in what is now known as Edmonton, Alberta, before she was born.
Ashlynn was privileged to be born on and grow up on Coast Salish territory in what is now known as Surrey, British Columbia, before relocating to the traditional lands of the Tongva nation in what is now known as Southern California, and then later to Amah Mutsun territories in what is now known as Santa Cruz, California.1 She returned to the Lower Mainland to complete graduate work at the University of British Columbia and was lucky to live, work, and study on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ speaking Musqueam peoples. While curating this exhibition, the University of British Columbia was closed due to COVID-19, and she worked remotely while living on the ancestral and unceded homelands of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh speaking peoples.2
Rare Books and Special Collections, which houses the Uno Langmann Family Collection of B.C. Photographs, is located on UBC’s Vancouver campus, on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ speaking Musqueam peoples.
Both myself, the curator of this exhibition, and Krisztina Laszlo, the project manager, are settlers on Indigenous lands in British Columbia. As such, we would like to acknowledge our biases and draw attention to the fact that there are things we cannot and will not ever understand about the experiences of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Given the limitations of our perspectives, even our best intentions and most thorough research may sometimes result in a final product that is in some way tone-deaf or culturally insensitive. Because of this, we invite and encourage any viewers of this exhibition to contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com if any part of this exhibition strikes you as inappropriate, offensive, out of date, or in need of adjustment in any way. We are committed to making any necessary changes to improve the cultural sensitivity and accuracy of this exhibition.
Note on Terminology
This exhibition was created in the autumn of 2020 using as a reference point the Indigenous Peoples: Language Guidelines Version 2.0 created by the University of British Columbia in 2018.3 We have used the guidelines outlined in this document to attempt to describe Indigenous peoples, lands, and languages as accurately and respectfully as we can, while realizing that best practices for terminology are subject to change as time passes, and that this exhibition may itself be a relic of its time – complete with out-of-date, incorrect terminology – in the future.
This exhibition uses the term Indigenous in the same way in which Daniel Heath Justice so eloquently describes in his book, Why Indigenous Literatures Matter: to “refer specifically to the First Peoples of North America, the Aboriginal, American Indian, Native, Inuit, Metis, and otherwise identified peoples who remain in relation to the land, the ancestors, and the kinship networks, lifeways, and languages, that originated in this hemisphere and continue in often besieged but always resilient forms.”4 Justice’s discussion of the term “settler” has also informed the use of that term in this exhibition, specifically that it is important to use “settler colonialism” when describing the history of this particular region, as distinguished from “the more traditional ideas of colonialism (wherein invaders claim resources but return home) by emphasizing the settler population’s creation of a new social order that depends in part on the ongoing oppression and displacement of Indigenous peoples.”5
Several points in this exhibition describe settlers as a whole with a rather broad brush, and while it may be outside the scope of this exhibition, it is important to note that a more nuanced and thorough conversation should be had about all the various groups of people that fall under the broad category of “settler.” Justice’s eloquence again does justice to this complexity:
“regardless of reason, and whether willing resource raiders or unwilling victims of other peoples’ ambitions, and whether intentionally or inadvertently, these groups very often displaced Indigenous peoples, and in many cases, laid claim to the land and took its resources for their own. Sometimes they did it with enthusiasm, sometimes they were forced to do it, sometimes they were reluctant but went along anyway, and sometimes they didn’t realize that their actions were uprooting others or that they had benefited from early dispossessions…. No matter what the reasons were or are, the results have generally [been] the same for the People: displacement and alienation from lands and relation.”6
The significance of this conversation is that, when we speak in general terms about the history of settler colonization in this region, we can tend to oversimplify the term settler so that we envision only white European settlers of malicious intent, and their direct descendants. In reality, the term settler can apply to a much broader swath of people. As the curator of this exhibition, my family has also been unmoored by colonization and sent adrift across the planet. This does not absolve me from the responsibility to learn about and think about the histories of Indigenous peoples on these lands – if anything, I feel it gives me more reason to do so – and I hope that this exhibition may encourage other settlers to acknowledge and understand their own positionality in this history, regardless of the path by which they came to arrive on these lands, regardless of any camaraderie that may have existed between their communities and Indigenous communities.
Continuing Impacts of Colonization
This exhibition was built around historical photographs taken primarily in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and as such, the exhibition as a whole focuses largely on the past. However, all of the issues raised throughout the exhibition have had lasting effects on Indigenous peoples. Although the research that has been done up to this point has been minimal, it is nonetheless clear that the treatment which Indigenous peoples have endured in North America has had profound, persisting consequences for Indigenous individuals and communities, including but not limited to mental and physical health, wellness, socioeconomic status, physical and natural environments, and spirituality. As Mitchell et al. write in a study conducted for the International Journal of Indigenous Health, colonial trauma has been “complex, continuous, collective, cumulative and compounding.” It is by no means a relic of the past, and as such, settler-colonists have a responsibility to engage with and work to understand the impacts of colonization, as well as what each of us can do to strive towards Truth and Reconciliation.
Colonization has affected Indigenous peoples on a systemic, societal scale, rather than being limited to individual or interpersonal harm; it is woven into the fabric of the societies in which we all live. The insidious nature of colonialism, like that of systemic racism, means that it doesn’t matter whether we as settlers feel that we have had any personal or familial hand in colonization. For some of us, our relatives may have been direct oppressors of Indigenous peoples, and we ourselves may have benefited from colonization directly, whether we are aware of it or not, through monetary gain, property inheritance, or even interpersonal, familial, and community connections. Others of us may have benefited more indirectly, but have certainly gained advantages because of colonization. We can see these advantages every day in the places in which we are able to live, the opportunities available to us, the careers we are able to choose, and countless other arenas. Rather than focusing on where to place the blame, on whether we personally can be accused of harm, on trying to prove that we as individuals are innocent, the focus should instead be placed on the undeniable harm that has been done to all Indigenous peoples, and what all of us can do to help make amends, right wrongs, and mitigate the continued negative impacts of colonization.
Many thanks go to the Uno Langmann Family for donating the collection of photographs from which this exhibition was born.
This exhibition would not have been possible without the efforts of Eka Grguric, Digital Scholarship Librarian at UBC, who provided near-constant troubleshooting and guidance during the process of building the website.
Thanks to Krisztina Laszlo for managing the project and providing editing suggestions and curation guidance throughout.
Thanks to Claire Williams, Karen Ng, and the staff at UBC’s Xwi7xwa Library, who reviewed the text, offered important guidance and suggestions, and helped me fill in the gaps.
Thanks also to Eric Leinberger, who granted permission to use the map he created of indigenous reserves in Vancouver, and to Katie Ferrante at the Museum of Anthropology for granting permission for use of the welcome figure image.
1. “Map,” Native Land, accessed November 10, 2020, https://native-land.ca/.
2. “History,” City of Burnaby, accessed November 10, 2020, https://www.burnaby.ca/About-Burnaby/About/History.html?PageMode=Print.
3. “Indigenous Peoples : Language Guidelines, Version 2.0,” The University of British Columbia, 2018, https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwjE68vGqfnsAhULgp4KHXWgCl0QFjAAegQIBBAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fassets.brand.ubc.ca%2Fdownloads%2Fubc_indigenous_peoples_language_guide.pdf&usg=AOvVaw0v2e6zxNVHH_qqmx9amCXQ.
4. Daniel Heath Justice, Why Indigenous Literatures Matter (Ontario, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2018), 7.
5. Ibid, 9.
6. Ibid, 11.
7. Terry Mitchell, Courtney Arseneau, Darren Thomas Lecturer, “Colonial Trauma: Complex, continuous, collective, cumulative and compounding effects on the health of Indigenous peoples in Canada and beyond,” International Journal of Indigenous Health 14, no. 2, (2019): 74-94, http://dx.doi.org/10.32799/ijih.v14i2.32251.
Technical Credits - CollectionBuilder
This digital collection is built with CollectionBuilder, an open source tool for creating digital collection and exhibit websites that is developed by faculty librarians at the University of Idaho Library following the Lib-STATIC methodology.
This site is built using CollectionBuilder-gh which utilizes the static website generator Jekyll and GitHub Pages to build and host digital collections and exhibits.
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