Daily Archives: February 15, 2010

ASBC Talk: Tuesday, February 16th

Surveyors in the Uplands development, Victoria, using a burial cairn as a surveying aid. Source; BC Archives.


Feb. 16, 2010, 7:30 pm

Pacific Forestry Centre, 506 West Burnside Road, Victoria, B.C.

Darcy Mathews

The Powerful Dead: The Rocky Point Cemetery and Straits Salish Identity.

Burial cairns and mounds are two types of pre-contact burial features in the Strait of Georgia region of south-western British Columbia. More than a millennium ago, the Straits Salish people, an ethno-linguistic group centered on present day Victoria, constructed a cairn cemetery at the Rocky Point site. Located 18 km southwest of present-day Victoria, this cemetery has over 300 cairns which occur in a variety of patterned shapes and sizes. Analysis of cairn construction and the use of space within this cemetery suggests that there was a strategic use of both material culture and landscape in Salish mortuary ritual, simultaneously expressing individual, household and perhaps even village-wide group identity. Underlying these statements of identity is the material expression of relationships between the living and the powerful dead, which were carefully navigated through the process of the funerary ritual, of which building cairns and mounds was but one part of a long-term process; a process that may have an antiquity of several thousand years. Biography Darcy Mathews is a PhD candidate at the University of Victoria. Working with the Scia’New First Nation, his ongoing dissertation research focuses on the identification, preservation, and study of pre-contact burial cairn and mound cemeteries in the Strait of Georgia.

For information, phone 384-6059 or e-mail asbcvictoria@gmail.com

Flickr user CanadaGood’s pictures of poles

Fallen pole at Gitsegulka. Source: flickr.com user CanadaGood.

Someone posting under the username “CanadaGood” at flickr.com has put up an impressive array of over 100 photos of “totem poles”.  What I like about this set is that most of these are not the iconic ones from coffee table books or museums but rather are still standing (or lying) in communities, mostly along the Skeena River.  They aren’t the most technically accomplished photos or anything but they are undeniably atmospheric and they document the process of renewal and decay of poles which was an important part of the carving complex.  Each pole is the material instance of the right to carve and display a set of crests or images, often as a memorial to a dead person of high status, and therefore the “thing” must be set against the intangible, non-material property of rights and titles which it represents.  Proper treatment of the pole might therefore well include letting it return to the earth, replaced by a fresher copy.  I like the matter of fact way this one is set up on stumps and this rotting masterpiece at Gitanyow.  This figure is unusual for being “sculpture in the round”.   Kudos to CanadaGood for putting pictures of these less commonly seen poles on flickr, in high resolution, and under a Creative Commons licence to boot.

Tops of standing poles at Gitsegulka. Source: flickr user CanadaGood.