Tag Archives: museums

1973 Aboriginal Perspective on UBC-MOA and SFU archaeology

Excerpt of 1973 Nesika newsletter criticizing MOA and SFU Archaeology. Click to view full page. Scroll down this page for link to plain text.

This is interesting, from the newsletter Nesika: Voice of B.C. Indians Vol. 2 No. 1 (February 1973), Page 6:

MONEY FOR BOAT: There is money to fund a boat to take archaeology students up and down our coastline to dig up the bones of our grandfathers and sift, sort, and label sacred objects from our burial grounds, but no money for us to treat our heritage with the dignity it. deserves?

This can only refer to the former pride and joy of the SFU department of Archaeology, the motor vessel Sisiutl.

That page from Nesika has two interesting articles.  One argues for the creation of a Cultural Centre at Hesquiat, while the other passionately objects to the millions spent on the UBC Museum of Anthropology and the above-mentioned Sisiutl.  Click on the image above for a legible image of the entire text, or click here for a transcript.  It is chastening to see the eloquence and power of these arguments from almost 40 years ago.  Hesquiat still has no Cultural Centre so far as I know while the Museum of Anthropology just wrapped up a 60+ million dollar renovation and SFU Archaeology has what amounts to their own, brand-new building as well, at what I hear was a cost of about 5 million dollars.


Lack of funds hit by Chief Rocky Amos

VANCOUVER (Staff) — After Indian Affairs had denied a request for funds for the Hesquiat Cultural Centre due to lack of funds, Band Chief Rocky Amos told the department that “we cannot accept the limitation of funds as valid.” Pointing to the $10 million available to a museum to house Indian artifacts at UBC and to other reports of funds granted for more white people to study Indians, Chief Amos wrote DIA: “It is difficult to follow the line of thinking that makes money available to exhibit our inheritance to city based people and when the rightful heirs to these very artifacts ask for assistance to house their history in an area where it will be meaningful to them, they are denied. “We of the Hesquiat Band are not unique and we have proven we can do it. Now we are made to crawl on our stomachs begging for funds to house our heritage. My pride is aching from begging but my pride also screams in agony when our people are forced into whitemen’s museums to see their inheritance.”

As the second article concludes in terms it is hard to argue with:

If there is money available for museums to store stolen work, then there is money available for museums to be built where that work belongs. With the children and grandchildren of the artists who represented a culture and society which has not, despite all efforts, conveniently died.

First custom built archaeology research vessel in North America: The Sisiutl. Recently scrapped by SFU. Source: American Antiquity.

PS: kudos to the Union of BC Indian Chiefs for putting so much archival information online.  In related news, I previously linked to the archives of the Native Voice, which is another great resource for understanding First Nations politics and which also contains intriguing aboriginal perspectives on the practice of BC Archaeology.

Museum of Vancouver Web Site (Fail)

The Sechelt Image. Detail of Screenshot from the Museum of Vancouver. (click for full screen or scroll down)

The Museum of Vancouver has a pretty slick and punchy website from a design point of view, very “Web 2.0” with bright colours and links to twitter and facebook and the like.  But in some respects it fails, and fails badly.   Consider the image above: the “Sechelt Image”, a stone sculpture and one of the most famous objects in BC Archaeology.  A single low-resolution picture is offered, a link to which is not possible, and downloads of which are  deliberately made difficult.  And in this protective bubble,  the object can only be seen as a pale, grainy image, surrounded by the Museum’s loud and crass colour scheme. (Update: see full screenshot below: the Vancouver Museum overlays its neon social web over the Sculpture much like Vancouver itself overlays aboriginal culture).

Fine – I am used to that ridiculous phenomenon wherein Public Institutions think they own the images that they are entrusted with – if the image is allowed to be seen by the descendent communities (and in this case I wonder if it really is) then why can it not be seen in high resolution, free from the magenta borders and the exhortations to tweet!?

But the real problem is that the web designers, with their stupid and un-necessary banner reading “Sechelt Image carved stone figure”, obscure an important area of the sculpture, including the all-important vulva which reveals, as noted by Wilson Duff, that this sculpture is powerfully hermaphroditic.  It is not just bad and regressive museology to cover up an important part of an object, but I believe it is deeply disrespectful as well.  By obscuring part of the image and by imprisoning it within their branded frame and obfuscating web design, they, the (hopefully) temporary guardians of this powerful piece of art, are visually co-opting it for what amounts to advertising purposes.  There is no reason to put your label over top of that which you claim to be displaying for its own sake; no reason other than marketing zeal and lack of control over the web designers.

You might think it was just prurience over the frankly sexual image, but below we see another image from their website with no shocking! vulva! to conceal, which has been similarly branded and bounded by the MoV.  Maybe I am just mad at them still because they’re using a petroglyph boulder as a rock garden (note the obscuring “petroglyph” banner) but really: their website is an egregious example of stealth appropriation and blatant disrespect under the disguise of progressive design and social networking.  And I’m just a dumb archaeologist: I’d love to see a Visual Anthropologist dissect the public face they are so eager for the world to see, the face they insist must frame every image on their website.

The Skytte stone bowl. Screenshot from the Museum of Vancouver website. Click for full screen.

The Website sends the Message: "This is Not a Place of Honour. There is No Dignity Here."

Oregon: Where Past is Present

Stone lamp from interior Oregon with inset eyes of abalone shell. Source: OMNCH.

The Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History has some very nice exhibits and it looks like their underlying collections are superb.  Their online photo-gallery “Oregon: Where Past is Present” is some pretty nice eye-candy, though I would love to see them give a little more information about each piece.  The sculptural lamp above is simply superb.

So-called "wealth blade" made of flaked obsidian, length 25 cm. Source: OMNCH

Lousy conservation at the Vancouver Museum?

Shoddy conservation of magnificent petroglyph boulder at the Vancouver Museum. Screenshot from VM website.

For some reason mistreatment of rock art just makes me spitting mad.  I posted the other day about a magnificent petroglyph boulder that was removed from its home on the central Fraser River near Lillooet in 1926.  Bad enough that this work of art was ripped from its setting to be a curio in an urban park.  Petroglyphs are not ornaments for your outdoor rock garden any more than they are lifestyle amenities deployed as advertising copy, even if you are a museum.

Now my spies tell me that this petroglyph boulder was moved to the Vancouver Museum in 1992.  Pictures of the boulder on the VM website show it to be in absolutely appalling shape.  It is covered with moss, the designs are visibly eroded and faint, there are signs of exfoliation, and the large crack seen in 1926 seems to be getting larger.   The Vancouver Museum appears to be keeping this treasure in a damp, shady, spot in the outdoors (as they say, it is in a “lower level garden courtyard”) and there is no sign of any attention to basic, fundamental conservation responsibilities. They even have the gall to note in their website description “Today archaeologists are reluctant to reveal the locations of petrogylphs, lest they be disturbed.”  Well I am revealing the location of this petroglyph, which is being disturbed by careless curation!

Seriously: this boulder is one of only a few petroglyphs from that part of the province, where pictographs are much more common.  It was in pristine condition in 1926.  Now it is a moss-ridden crumbling mess.  This boulder is a cultural masterpiece.  It is a provincial treasure.  It is a national treasure.  It is of international significance.  And yet it is being absolutely neglected by a leading cultural institution.  Imagine an Emily Carr painting being treated so poorly.  Imagine a Bill Reid sculpture  treated so shabbily.  It would never happen.  Yet this boulder is as important, is MORE important, and is consigned to rot away metres from state of the art curatorial facilities which are being devoted to white leather pant suits (!!).  It is astonishing to me that they put this boulder on the web at all, suggesting that they don’t see a problem and are therefore unworthy to be in possession of it.  They should make arrangements immediately to have it transferred to a suitable institution or have it returned to its original setting, in what I take to be St’at’imc territory

Vancouver Museum, you have a responsibility of professional stewardship.  Are you living up to it?

Note the eroded engravings and extensive moss/algae cover. Source: VM website screenshot.

The boulder in the early 1930s, soon after it was brought to Stanley Park. Note the crispness of the designs and the lack of moss.

Even more on the Wilson Duff – SGang Gwaay Musical

Haida House and pole. Source: Duff and Kew, 1957.

A month or two ago I made several posts (1 , 2, 3) about a forthcoming musical called Beyond Eden, which tells the story of the 1957 expedition to ‘rescue’ poles from the Haida Town of SGang Gwaay (PDF).

I notice The Tyee has a very good overview of this musical (which opens tonight) including some comments from Roy Jones Sr. of Skidegate, last seen on this blog as a young man climbing poles in 1957 CBC archival footage.  Says The Tyee:

Now in his mid-80s, he is reflective about the experience, having enjoyed the physical work and the company of members of the crew — but about cutting the poles? “It didn’t feel right,” he said. However, the Skidegate Band Council had approved the work and many felt it was the right thing to do. Further to that, Jones was on a recent trip to The Chicago Field Museum and saw one of the poles taken from Skedans (an expedition he was also on). “If they hadn’t taken it at that time, it would have been ruined, I think,” he said.

It is good to see some Haida perspective on both the events of 1957 and on this musical.  I also didn’t realize Nathalie at the Qay museum was a student of Wilson Duff’s — I’ll have to buy her a coffee and pump her for stories next time I am up on the islands. It’s a good article — The Tyee is doing some of the best journalism in BC right now.

Poster for "Beyond Eden" musical. Click to buy tickets; scroll down for title song.

Shipwrecks of Vancouver Island

The three-masted ship Carelmapu with decks awash, dragging her anchors into Schooner Cove, near Tofino, in 1915

The ‘Virtual Museum of Canada”  has been responsible for some nice online exhibits, although a lot of these are now fairly dated.  One with what we could call a “retro web design”, but some good content, is the Shipwrecks of Vancouver Island site, apparently put together mainly on the watch of the Maritime Museum of BC with help from the Underwater Archaeological Society of BC.  There are some nice videos of underwater archaeology, and other informative materials.

Site navigation, though, is much easier if you just go to the site map here — the absurdly finicky navigation does weird things like, say, means using the back button always takes you to a splash introduction screen — is a crime against the web.  Especially since museum people are involved: why such disdain for solid future-proof web design values?  This page, for example, has a nifty slider to scroll through an interactive map: but if you don’t pay attention (e.g., if you use your back button) you will always end up on a “loading XML – introduction to the database” overlay screen page which gets tired after about the third time.  The VMC should consider a legacy fund to make sure that the sites which they poured money into for a while can all be kept up to date for both content and also compliance or at least ease of use.  It would not surprise me in the slightest if the VMC had spent over $100,000 on this site — the one site of their I know something about they spent $140,000 and it is no flashier than this thing.  Almost all that money went into design and mounting of content, very little went to the content creators themselves.  If that  applied here, I think we have a right to expect more – is this site design worth $100,000?  It seems to me that, even in 2004, a competent web designer working alone, with content given by others, could have put this together in about a month.

Canadian Navy diver goes overboard in 1959 to examine the 1853 wreck of the Lord Western, near Flores Island.

Speaking of Wilson Duff and Bill Reid

Roy Jones of Skidegate climbs a pole at SGang Gwaay. Source: CBC.

Yesterday I noted the upcoming musical about the Bill Reid-Wilson Duff expedition to “rescue” carved poles at the Haida Village of SGang Gwaay (Ninstints).  I’ve just found that the CBC has posted online a short documentary, (2013:edit, use this link)  first broadcast in 1959 and narrated by Bill Reid, showing the removal of these poles to the Museum of Anthropology at UVIC.  The expedition also included Wayne Suttles and Michael Kew, as well as Wilson Duff of course.  The Haida crew consisted of Roy Jones, Clarence Jones and Frank Jones of Skidegate. Some aspects of the trip are recounted in the BC Provincial Museum Annual Report of 1957, which I will scan and post some other day.

The spoken component of the documentary is a fascinating account by Reid, at that time just beginning his carving career, but the real jaw-dropping element is the depiction of the use of axes and saws and climbing spikes to log this forest of poles.  Necessary, of course, but jarring nonetheless.

Broadcast Date: May 21, 1959

A small boat ferrying Bill Reid and a team of anthropologists approaches the southern tip of the Queen Charlotte Islands. Reid documents the rescue mission to salvage and relocate the last of the crumbling Haida totems as revealed in this CBC documentary. With a sense of excited urgency, Reid describes and catalogues the enormous poles on the approaching shore. As they are gently felled, the majestic cultural landmarks will creak and groan before they are prepared for transport.

It’s low resolution and grainy, but the general impression is a very powerful one.

Felling a tree, surely, not a pole at SGang Gwaay. Source: CBC.