I accepted the Corbett scholarship on the idea that I would be learning how to view and develop international methods of decolonizing, re-indigenizing, and reconciling with the intent of bringing them back to Seattle. However, as I situated myself on the University of British Columbia Vancouver’s campus (UBC), I’ve been fortunate enough to realize what it means to actually live in a place that has already been doing these actions and continues to every single day. UBC’s campus sits upon the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the Musqueam band and people; because of this UBC and Musqueam have created a meaningful collaboration that first acknowledges the dark history of colonization and secondly, hold genuine listening communities and co-ownership of UBC on a pedestal and lastly they strive together to create a University that respects indigenous peoples’ view of land, place, and traditions.
To live in place, means to connect with the land in other ways than just physical. Living in place is the notion that you understand the history and significance of a place first. Art, language, and indigenous presences serve as a medium to not only enhance place but create an atmosphere where anyone can feel welcomed. To an indigenous person from the United States walking on UBC’s campus for the first time makes you feel overwhelmed and energetic. These emotions aren’t because the campus is so lush with greenery or so big you could fit UW’s campus inside it but it’s because you feel like you’re in a place that has established co-ownership between the indigenous people of the land and the institution. This co-ownership is based on the little things that add up and generally make you happy to be studying at this University. For example, it’s the indigenous art made by indigenous people of the area, it’s the Musqueam Coast Salish language translated alongside the main street signs, and most importantly it’s the over 30 indigenous faculty members that contribute to 180 courses with predominantly or additional indigenous content. To me, this exemplifies what it means to live with the land and in a place.
Art has always been a pretty big influence in my life, it’s something that has molded my experiences as an indigenous person but it’s also something that has helped me through the tougher of times. Whether it’s in the form of visual art, dancing, or signing. Art has always given me the grounding to what it means to be a creative and innovate student despite struggling in western academia, so when a place is filled with high-quality art it immediately resonates as a place where I can feel included. While getting orientated with the various locations of my classes during the first weeks of school I always managed to be a little bit late or having to show up to class sweaty because that walk turned into a run. I wouldn’t be lying if it was because I was trying to create an impromptu art walk along the way. It turned out that I wasn’t the only one either. During one course, we did a similar walk around campus that showed some of the First Nations’ qeqən. qeqən or house post were used as interior foundations for many Coast Salish people’s longhouses. Many of these posts would help support central beams for longhouse that were as large as 60 feet by 40 feet wide. Much like interior styled totem poles. They hold stories, honor, and family histories. To my surprise during this class art walk we were all given the booklet ‘qeqən: House Posts’ that supplemented additional information about each piece. ‘qeqən: House Posts’ is the official University of British Columbia walking tour of the Musqueam house posts around the campus. It was written by UBC alumni and Musqueam member Jordan Wilson in collaboration with Musqueam’s culture department and the UBC’s Indigenous Strategic Initiatives. It showcases seven different stops around the 990-acre campus and incorporates the history that the Musqueam people have had with Vancouver and the endowed lands. Wilson eloquently guides you through the booklet with traditional ecological knowledge and relies on you to question your responsibility as a guest on this campus with each stop. I still don’t have a favorite qeqən yet but I especially appreciate the history behind Brent Sparrow Jr.’s (Musqueam) sʔi:ɬqəy̓ qeqən. This qeqən was originally commissioned by UBC in partnership with Musqueam but their tribal council decided to gift the university for their 2016 centennial in the true spirit of potlatch and living in place. sʔi:ɬqəy̓ qeqən ultimately explains the origin of the name Musqueam. However, it isn’t my story to tell but if you ever get the chance to visit UBC I encourage you to stop by sʔi:ɬqəy̓ qeqən and pick up qeqən: House Posts.
Having appropriate Coast Salish art is beyond meaningful to the ever-evolving narrative of indigenous people in the area. Yet, it’s not the most important thing. Language is. UBC’s efforts to include the Musqueam language hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ has shown to prove that a university can be involved with the process of revitalization of indigenous cultures at its core. Something that the University of Washington could really learn from their institutional peer to create a more diverse and equitable future for all its students. For example, while walking on UBC’s campus you will notice the large street signs upon major intersections. While English is on top you may notice a language that is unfamiliar to you but on closer inspection, you realize that it’s the Musqueam hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ translation. These translations refer to the place names that Musqueam gave these roads in partnership with the University of British Columbia. Crossing ‘Memorial’ road also means you are crossing ‘šxʷhək̓ʷmət’ which does not translate directly to ‘Memorial’ but to ‘that which is used to remember them’ a saying that Musqueam people have been using to refer to people and events that have passed since time immemorial.
These street signs allow for increased visibility of the Musqueam peoples’ living language and culture, like how I said it’s the small things that really matter. You wouldn’t believe how excited I was to see an indigenous language being printed along English around campus. This once again contributed to the acceptance that I was welcomed at this university as an indigenous person. Something that the University of Washington has yet to fulfill outside of wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ or the longhouse styled facility that I proudly call my second home. Unfortunately wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ sits between the cross streets of Stevens Way and Whitman Court and the Lushootseed translation for those would be Isaac Stevens ‘a war-hungry governor who used violence and manipulation to get Pacific Northwest tribes to sign treaties’ and Marcus Whitman ‘a missionary who tried to assimilate the Cayuse people using force than was remembered for his heroic actions because savage Indians rebelled and killed him’ but we aren’t ready to talk about that yet. With simple language and ‘honoring’ comes immense knowledge and education that can seriously be harmful to indigenous people every single day.
The University of British Columbia also privileges language by helping create Xwiʔxwa Library. The Xwiʔxwa was gifted by a Squamish Chief who explained that Xwiʔxwa means ‘echo’ in Squamish, for a library holds echoes of knowledge systems that have been passed down from families. At Xwiʔxwa you’re receiving an echo from families, scholars, and unknown friends. Xwiʔxwa has a one of a kind collection of indigenous materials from non-fiction books, board games, DVDs, indigenous dictionaries all created by indigenous authors. Xwiʔxwa also serves as the only indigenous branch of an academic library in Canada. Xwiʔxwa is my favorite spot on campus!
Before I departed onto my journey up to UBC, I also departed out of my position, of almost a year at the City of Seattle working as an indigenous intern in the Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD). While working as the first indigenous intern at OPCD I helped create a foundation that started to include indigenous people into the planning process of Seattle. Before, OPCD often would only go to federally recognized tribes for consultation and totally forget about the urban Native Americans that live in Seattle. During my position I questioned their position and fought to outreach to as many native communities as I could and begin to solidify my work as a liaison between OPCD and native people. Community planning requires a lot of engagement, reading, and obviously planning. So, I needed to search for books that could help me create this foundation in a positive direction. That’s when I came across ‘Indigenous in the City: Contemporary Identities and cultural innovation’ by Evelyn Peters and Chris Andersen. After doing a little more research about the book I found out it was being used as the main textbook in the course PLAN 321 at UBC. PLAN 321 under the School of Community and Regional Planning is described as “a place-based exploration of the multiple, complex and contested ways urban Indigeneity is constituted in Canada today, with opportunities to attend community events and hands-on learning”. PLAN 321 was a course I had to take even before I knew I was going to UBC because it’s was a course that unknowingly helped me succeed in my internship but most importantly it showed that city planning as a profession based on living in place. Words can’t describe how thankful and emotional I was waking to that first class, I didn’t even stop and look at the art around me, I didn’t have to because I knew I was going to a class where I was going to be acknowledged and accepted as an indigenous person.
In essence, even though my time as been limited at the University of British I haven’t ceased to take advantage of every social and academic collaboration that has presented itself to me. As a guest on this campus and on Musqueam land I have also learned to actively listen to my peers and realize that you can never assume that the person you are listening to doesn’t have anything to share. You just have to wait. Exchanges like this allow you to just sit in place and listen. Many told me that I needed to go on the full year to get fully ‘immersed’ but for an indigenous student coming here it’s like being in the future of reconciliation, a future that I want to take back to Seattle and be proud to help build. Ultimately a future I want my kids growing up in where they can see appropriate representation of art, language, and indigenous scholars.
Lastly, I encourage everyone reading this just to take a second and look into a study abroad. It doesn’t matter where you go, just go. Being away allows you to open up in ways you never knew you had inside you. It’s time to take that leap of faith and be encouraged to take risks; what do you have to lose? You only have everything to gain when you surround yourself in a place that lets you critically engage in any way you want to.