Where the Power Is: Indigenous Perspectives on Northwest Coast Art brings together contemporary Indigenous knowledge holders with extraordinary works of historical Northwest Coast art that transcend the category of art or artifact.
Dozens of Indigenous artists and community members visited the Museum of Anthropology at UBC to engage with these objects and learn from the hands of their ancestors. The photographs and their commentaries speak to the connections between tangible and intangible cultural belongings; how art remains part of Northwest Coast people’s ongoing relationships to their territories and governance; Indigenous experiences of reconnection, reclamation, and return; and critical and necessary conversations around the role of museums.
The following is an excerpt from the publication, featuring a cedar-root basket, circa 1900, and a poem by Jo Billows (Xwémalhkwu/Homalco First Nation).
The maker of this imbricated cedar-root basket, whose name was not recorded with it, likely drew on teachings from her mother and grandmothers. As a child she would have watched her Elders gather, prepare, and dye the necessary plant materials, then construct the baskets and patterns with both artistry and mathematical precision. She in turn would have passed this inherited knowledge and skills to her own daughters and granddaughters, although, at the turn of the century, this may have been a challenge unfulfilled due to the deep ruptures caused by the Indian residential school system. The result of these time-honoured teachings is a functional basket that expresses the ecological, genealogical, cultural, and technical practices of the makerʼs family and community—and the makerʼs personal creativity.
By Jo Billows
(Xwémalhkwu/Homalco First Nation)
My name is Unapologetically Still Standing Red.
My motherʼs name is Loudness Concealing Silence Red.
My fatherʼs name is [Space Intentionally Left Blank] Red.
I come from a people known for weaving ancestral stories,
and refusing to abide by the secrets of our mothers.
I trace my family history back seven generations.
Basket makers, survivors, keepers of watersheds and languages.
Patterns imprinted in my mitochondrial DNA.
My mothers and mothers before her form my one-sided family tree.
I trace our migration through village sites, seasonal rotation and
I trace our movement through story and time.
I trace also the inheritance of silence between generations:
patterns and secrets broken by rebellious daughters.
On my family tree, rebellious daughters are known for fighting
against the fear and shame of residential schools.
Known for breaking the promises that they made to their mothers,
by still passing on the language and the culture.
Even to daughters who could pass for white.
In spite of this rebellion, colonization still finds ways to ensure
that these daughters pass on different shades of shame to their
The foster care and adoption system still finds ways to pass down
patterns of forced assimilation to the next generation of rebellious
Known for fighting against the fear and shame of rape culture and
Known for breaking the promises that we made to our mothers
by refusing to hide ourselves or lie about where we come from.
Even daughters who could pass for white.
While we are told to keep searching our family trees for patterns
of shame and secrecy, still there are baskets.
Those patterns too are passed down.
The land will continue to welcome rebellious daughters home with
seawater and songs, and these too are patterns of returning.
The rhythm of tides, calling out to mothers and to rebellious daughters:
Remember me. Remember me. ●
Excerpted from Where the Power Is: Indigenous Perspectives on Northwest Coast Art, by Karen Duffek, Bill McLennan, and Jordan Wilson. Copyright 2021 by Museum of Anthropology at UBC. Text copyright to the authors. Excerpted with permission from Figure 1 Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.