In January, CTLT welcomed Musqueam community member and artist Morgan Guerin. Guerin shared and discussed Musqueam culture, history, and his contribution to the exhibit cəsnaʔəm, the city before the city.
Guerin, who is a Fisheries Officer and an elected Councillor for the Musqueam Indian Band, was born on Musqueam territory and raised by his parents and grandparents on the Musqueam reserve. From a young age, he learned to hunt, fish, and recognize the importance of his land.
Guerin explained that in hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, Musqueam’s language, the word for ‘Native person’ translates almost exactly to “a person of the earth.” He noted that Musqueam people are taught to “look after your environment and be a steward to your environment, because that is a part of you—that’s how you’re tied to who you are.”
Through the years, and in keeping with the lessons he learned, Guerin was taught how to craft tools from materials from the earth. He noted the importance of utilizing all materials, and depositing unused materials to the water, where they would return back to the earth.
Guerin was asked to apply his experiences and expertise with traditional Musqueam tool-making practices to create replicas of flint tools and a 30-foot sturgeon pole for the cəsnaʔəm, the city before the city exhibit at the Musqueam Cultural Centre, and a set of teaching tool kits for schools and communities to accompany the lessons from the cəsnaʔəm exhibit. The award-winning, multi-site cəsnaʔəm exhibition explores the ancient Musqueam village and burial ground that Vancouver was built upon. The cəsnaʔəm exhibit at the Musqueam Community and Cultural Centre continues until the end of this yearwhile the exhibit site at the Museum of Vancouver will remain open to the public until 2020. The exhibit at the Museum of Anthropology closed earlier this year.
cəsnaʔəm, the city before the city invites exhibit-goers to interact with Musqueam culture and history through belongings. In contrast to the notion of “artefacts,” belongings, Guerin explained, pay respects to the creator of each item. Due to the unique and personal craftsmanship of the tools, Guerin can tell if the same person built several items, of even if the person who built the piece was right or left handed. In order to create an item, Guerin noted, “A piece of you has to go into it for a piece to go out. There’s a little bit of the ancestor left in [each belonging].”
In one and half months, Guerin created 20 flint tools and the replica sturgeon pole for the exhibition and educational tool kits. Guerin’s reproductions were displayed alongside belongings from Musqueam ancestors at the Musqueam Community and Cultural Centre exhibit. The 30-foot sturgeon pole, which Guerin created after conducting oral history research with his Musqueam relatives and community members, is one of the most notable features of the exhibit.
Sturgeon poles, which were used generations ago to catch fish, ranged from 15 feet to over 50 feet. Guerin learned about the process of using sturgeon poles through Musqueam elders. One end of the pole, which would have two spikes and an eagle feather, would be placed in the water, where the feather would graze the bottom of the ocean. The other end of the pole would be held against the fisherman’s face. The feather at the end would send a vibration through the pole to the fisherman’s jaw, which signaled that there was a fish below. The spikes would then be used to spear the fish.
Guerin emphasized the fine engineering and ingenuity of the poles. While he had heard stories about the use of sturgeon poles, Guerin noted that his generation had never seen one. Guerin’s replica sturgeon pole was the first pole made by the Musqueam community in nearly a century.
The process of creating the tools has instilled Guerin with continued pride and appreciation for his culture. “I’ve always said my last name is Guerin, but it might as well be Musqueam,” he said.
This event was part of CTLT Aboriginal Initiatives’ Classroom Climate series, which invites faculty, TAs, researchers, students, and staff to critically engage in topics related to Aboriginal issues. Registration is open for the next Classroom Climate event, “Decolonizing Language in Teaching and Learning.”