Geist: Memory and the Valley Photo Essay

Sxwòyeqs (The Place that Everyone Died) | Stave Lake. Source: Geist Magazine.

A while ago I linked to a beautiful photo-essay from Geist Magazine on decaying towns on the BC coast.  I see they have another excellent photo essay, this one on the subject of the superposition of Euro-Canadian towns and spaces onto Aboriginal archaeological sites and significant places.  The text by Sandra Shields and David Campion is sensitive and evocative and the photographs are well taken — in some ways they are banal – an overpass, and access road – yet knowing what lies underneath triggers emotional reactions. UVIC’s own Duncan McLaren is featured as well so it must be a good article – Stave Lake (above) has two of the oldest archaeological sites in Canada (each more than 12,000 years old), parts of which miraculously survived the reservoir inundation.

The Geist authors are interviewed here, which is also well worth reading:

Interviewer: it’s not only peo­ple that are miss­ing in “Memory and the Valley”; you touch on the dis­ap­pear­ing salmon, the white pine, the waters drained away. There’s def­i­nitely that tone of loss through­out the whole work.

Campion: That is why we’re hav­ing the exhibit here in the old city hall in Chilliwack, with a wall of the orig­i­nal pio­neers look­ing down on the work. It’s because you strug­gle with these two nar­ra­tives. One says: When Canada started, we came to a land that had no peo­ple in it and we strug­gled really hard and made a won­der­ful life for our­selves and a future for our chil­dren. Whereas, for abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple, it’s a story of huge pain and suf­fer­ing, and a huge loss of peo­ple to dis­ease, even before con­tact. Then res­i­den­tial schools, cul­tural mod­i­fi­ca­tion, and so on.

So you’ve got this prob­lem at the base of Canadian soci­ety. For soci­ety as a whole to move for­ward, we need to find a way to acknowl­edge that loss, not just to have it mean some­thing in that on/off, negative/positive sense. As non-Natives, we need to find a way to absorb the real­i­ties of our com­ing here into our national narrative.

The notion of a “palimpsest” in archaeology is common, borrowed from manuscript studies: parchments would be scraped clean and re-used, yet, the older writing can still be seen and read, a ghostly precursor image.  Writing over writing, material culture over material culture, names over names and the living over the dead.  Every time you walk across the concrete apron in front of the MacPherson Library at UVIC you walk across an archaeological site.  Every time you leave the Elliot Lecture hall you walk across a site.  The Legislature is on a site, the Fraser Arms Hotel, the Willows Beach Tea House, all superimposed, a collective blotting.  Our feet tread the scraped parchment of the dead.

Leq’á:mél | Nicomen Island

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