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Stories from the Indigenous Internship Program: Transformation

The Indigenous Internship Program at MOA was developed by six Indigenous partners: the Musqueam Indian Band, the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, the Haida Gwaii Museum, the U’mista Cultural Society, the Nlaka’pamux Nation, the Coqualeetza Cultural Society, and the Museum of Anthropology at UBC. The program provides training opportunities for Indigenous people working in museums or Indigenous people who would like to do this kind of work. Funding for the Indigenous Internship Program is provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Our latest series of MOA Stories feature the fascinating research conducted by members of the Fall 2022 cohort during their internship.


Transformation

By Bernice Rosso (Lake Babine Nation)

My name is Bernice Rosso. I am from the Lake Babine Nation. Lake Babine Nation is situated in and around the Bulkley Valley and Lakes District Area, Burns Lake, British Columbia. I am from the Lakh jabu (Bear Clan). I have three boys. I come from a matriarchal nation. My mom is Martina (Rosso) Joseph, Lakh jabu (Bear Clan). My dad is Henry Rosso, Lakh tsamisyu (Beaver clan) and my stepmother is Doris (Michell) Rosso. My grandparents are Alex Joseph, Gil lan tin (Cariboo Mountian), and Celina Joseph, Lakh jabu (Bear clan).

Bernice Rosso wrapping print for freezer. Photo by Shabnam Honarbakhsh.

I have been part of an amazing experience at the Museum of Anthropology (MOA): The Indigenous Internship Program. Right at the start, I got to meet a lot of exceptional people through Zoom who are part of the six First Nations that are partnered with the Museum of Anthropology—that was exciting! I got to meet fabulous staff at MOA and take part in staff meetings. I had brief introductions to different parts of the museum: Collections, the Oral History and Language Lab, care and handling training, a tour of the Archaeology area, and Curatorial and Conservation. In addition, I got to meet Elder Bobby Joseph of the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw, who is the author of the book, Namwayut—We Are All One: A Pathway to Reconciliation.  Sarah Holland, our Indigenous Internship Program Lead, was there to meet and greet the interns and share her amazing skills of organizing, planning, swift analytical thinking, and advocating and giving supreme support and encouragement throughout our transformation and our journey as Indigenous Internship participants.

Bernice Rosso reframing Bear Mother. Photo by Mauray Toutloff.

We went on two field trips—to the Bill Reid Gallery and the Museum of Vancouver—to learn about the basics of how they run their museums and how they differ from MOA. It was exciting to see their dedication to the exquisite art work made currently and, in the past, and how the functional items were used. Exhibiting the numerous and varied art forms in museums and galleries sets the stage for people to extract the knowledge and wisdom of the artists. 

A lot of my time was spent in MOA’s Conservation department, where I met Mauray Toutloff (Conservator) and Shabnam Honarbakhsh (Collections Coordinator).  In late October, I asked Shabnam if I could bring in one of my late Uncle Larry Rosso’s silkscreen prints to get restored. It had a lot of wrinkles and creases in it from being rolled up and stored many years ago. My Uncle Larry was from Lake Babine Nation and belonged to the Lah tss yu (Beaver Clan). He was a master carver, born in 1944 and died in 2006. The picture that I am restoring is called Bear Mother, and was printed in 1990. The picture depicts the mother bear’s head and the bear cub on its mother’s back and a hand.

Bear Mother before treatment. Photo by Mauray Toutloff.

Restoring the picture took many steps. First, we took it out of the frame so that we could begin the process of restoring the picture. Next, we wrapped the picture into acid free tissue and polyethylene sheet and put it into a freezer for one week so that we can eliminate any pests that may be on the picture.  After that, we brought it into the museum’s Conservation lab, vacuuming and cleaning it, humidifying it, so we can press the picture flat to take out the creases, and finally reframing it. I learned that there are a lot of details to conserving one piece!

After pest mitigation, surface cleaning,  crease removal and re-matting, Bernice’s work on Bear Mother is complete. Photo by Mauray Toutloff.

While I was working in Conservation, it brought back a lot of memories of my Uncle Larry. As a result, I’m calling this article “Transformation,” because Larry went through transformations in his life time. Transformation means a dramatic change through form or appearance. This transformation started for my Uncle Larry when he was taken from his parents around the age of 4 years old and put into Lejac Residential School.  Indian Residential schools were created by the Canadian government and various religious organizations to “civilize the Indian” in the child; they were part of a massive assimilation policy from about 1920 to 1996. Lejac Residential School was located in Fraser Lake, BC, and was operated from 1922 to 1976 by the Roman Catholic Church under contract with the Government of Canada. *

Boys playing ice hockey at Lejac Residential School in 1937. Photo courtesy the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre (10a-c000617-d0006-0001).
Artist Larry Rosso painting. Photo by Miranda Rosso.

After residential school, Larry moved to Vancouver in 1963. He became a carver, painter and a construction worker, to name a few ways that he worked hard to carve out his new life. Larry and his wife, Alice Rosso had three children: Amos, Miranda, and Brad. He later married my auntie, Marie Rosso. The Bear Mother print is just one of the numerous creations that Larry worked on and that was gifted to me by my cousin Miranda Rosso.  Larry passed away in 2006, but he left a legacy of family and his fabulous works of art.

Reminiscing about the journey that my late Uncle Larry travelled, and that one of his many creations was an image of the Bear Mother, made me think about how I, too, am a mother of three boys: Brandon, Travis and William. And in learning about the various steps in Conservation here at the Museum of Anthropology, working with my hands to delicately restore the Bear Mother print, I had memories of Uncle Larry working with his hands, and how much pride he had in his art and his numerous creations.


Yinka Dene Language Institute (1989) We Remember Lejac. Videotape. Vanderhoof, British Columbia: Yinka Dene Language Institute.