More on the Sea-to-Sky Cultural Journey

Sign at the Horsehoe bay kiosk. Source: tad McIlwraith account.

A month or two ago I commented on the Squamish and Lil’wat Cultural Journey website, which explores oral history and place names in the traditional territory of these two southwestern British Columbia First Nations.  I was really happy to see that Douglas College Anthropologist (and occasional commenter here) Dr. Tad McIlwraith has carried the review much further.  He’s even taken it into the field, so to speak, by documenting and discussing the actual cultural centre itself, and also the roadside kiosks which bring Squamish and Lil’wat histories to the travelling public.

Tad’s review has two parts.

Squamish place names in Howe Sound, in Howe Sound. Source: Tad McIlwraith flickr account.

In the first part, Tad reviews the roadside kiosks that are now found along the Sea to Sky highway between Vancouver and Whistler.  There are seven of these altogether, and Tad has created a photo set for each, making it possible to get the flavour of this impressive project without having to cross the Moat of Georgia.  These are worth looking at, because the topic of public archaeology and public education have been coming up repeatedly on this website and yet here we have an actual example of First Nations creating, designing, promoting, and advertising their cultural heritage with a significant portion of the story being an archaeological one.  I know the visitors are still standing by the side of a major highway but nonetheless they are being educated in First Nations history and archaeology in the very landscape in which it happened.  This has to be a good thing, and Tad’s review shows that the kiosks are effective, tasteful and educational.

Brittannia Creek Signage. Source: Tad

As he notes:

For me, the most significant aspect of this cultural journey are the signs that line the Sea-to-sky Highway (Figure 2). Using colours and proportions consistent with Ministry of Transportation highway signage, these creek crossing signs and mileage markers are notable because they don’t stand out as add-ons to existing markers (Figure 3). The signs look official and authentic and, as such, present the Skwxwū7mesh (Squamish) and/or Liĺwat7ul (Lilwat) languages on equal footing with English all along the route.

Good stuff, and I hope we see more of this in B.C., and that it is given the support and input from the archaeological community it richly deserves.

Squamish-Lillooet Cultural Centre. Source: Tad McIlwraith account

The second part focuses on the Skwxwū7mesh Liĺwat7ul Cultural Centre in Whistler, which Tad gives a rave review of, and also illustrates it with a set at  Tad has been seduced by twitter of late (not a bad thing – he’ll keep you up to date on local Anthroplogy!), but  it is also good to see him back at the longer form of blogging.  If you aren’t familiar with his blog Field Notes: For the Anthropology of British Columbia, it is a treasure trove of good articles on his research and commentary on happenings in B.C. which was dormant for a while but is now back up and running.   He’s also a good photographer and his other photo-sets are also worth browsing, especially the ones of Tahltan territory, his principle field site. Some of the HDR ones are quite striking.   It’s good to see such active and relevant cultural anthropology happening in B.C. and being brought to the public through so many media.

And yes, if you’re wondering, the rumour is, he is indeed related to that other guy.

4 responses to “More on the Sea-to-Sky Cultural Journey

  1. You are very kind Quentin. Thank you for blogging about my blogging. I appreciate the cross-pollination and hope it fosters a greater conversation (moat not-withstanding)!



  2. Hi Tad — I really liked your review and all the pictures and stuff. It seems to be a quiet day here, but we have been talking a lot about the need to be more proactive in putting archaeology out there in contexts other than bulldozer meets little old lady – and the Squamish – Lil’wat example seems to me to be ripe with possibility.

    The moat will never run dry, I hope, but we could launch ballistic understandings from our respective trebuchets, I suppose!


  3. I think this kind of thing is very important to breaking down the barriers that otherwise still seem to under construction in BC.

    People in BC need to be shown the value of archaeology in order start valuing it themselves. They also need to feel it is part of BC’s heritage, not just the local first nation. If these kinds of installations are done in a way that build pride in our past, then some of the problems that have been highlighted lately will diminish. Other remedies are also necessary, but more of this, and all over the place, would be very welcome.


  4. APM — there is a strong trend with a loud voice in the academy which simplifies this issue to “appropriation”. Unfortunately, that rather simplistic and heavily loaded term has scared off a lot of academics from engaging with this sort of thing. In my limited experience, the First Nations’ views of “appropriation” vs. public interpretation is much more nuanced than most anthropologists’ views. In this sense, over-thinking a problem, always a danger in anthropology, has paralysed an entire generation of graduate students who are afraid to even raise this topic.

    Having said that, it would be good to know the genesis of this project and know more about the process by which consensus was raised within (and between!) the First Nations as to how and what would or could be portrayed. Naturally this would vary Nation to Nation and so would the possibilities of implementation. I think the roadside kiosk idea has a lot of potential and should be being discussed widely – but clearly there are also other ways in which public interpretation – as a means towards site protection – could be enabled. First Nations taking the leading role, but archaeologists and anthropologists putting themselves at the service of the Nations to share their specialized knowledge and perspective. Someone has to take the first step here, and it is not out of order for an archaeologist to take the initiative in proposing these sorts of things.


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