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Understanding Indigenous heritage sites: Susan Roy’s SSHRC Partnership Development project

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

marpole protest

Musqueam First Nation protesting for the preservation of the ancient Marpole Village burial site. Credit: Sharon Stogan

“Indigenous communities in Canada have been at the forefront of developing collaborative research partnerships with universities,” says Susan Roy of the Department of History. As principle investigator on the SSHRC funded Marpole Project: the history and politics of Indigenous heritage sites in Canada, Professor Roy examines Indigenous and non-Indigenous understandings of heritage resources and cultural property in Canada.

Marpole objectsA collaborative research approach is, of course, key for uncovering multiple perspectives. The Marpole Project partners are the Musqueam First Nation, the Museum of Vancouver (MOV), the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, and UWaterloo.

Focusing on an ancestral village and burial site of the Musqueam people located in what is now Vancouver, Professor Roy explains that the site is the home of “thousands of precious, intricately carved bone and stone objects as well as hundreds of ancestors.” These burials and cultural objects were removed from the Vancouver location in the late nineteenth century and have been dispersed among museum collections across North America.

“A few years ago, the MOV, the Musqueam, and I planned to collaborate on an exhibit because the museum had over 1,500 cultural objects in their collections that originated at this place,” says Professor Roy. “The museum wished to provide a critical history of their collecting and display practices, develop a richer understanding of this collection, and offer Indigenous interpretations of this history.

“In the winter of 2012, the project took on a renewed sense of urgency when construction for a condominium development unearthed four ancient burials, leading members of the Musqueam community to establish a 24-hour vigil at the site.”

The project will culminate in January 2015, as a series of exhibits exploring the history and politics of the site, at the partnering museums, along with a virtual exhibit depicting the history of the site, 3-D modeling of objects, and a digital archive. 

In the following years, Professor Roy plans to expand the investigation of conflicts surrounding Indigenous cultural property in other locations in Ontario and across Canada.

Susan RoyShe hopes that the project and exhibits will bring Indigenous perspectives to a broader audience. “It’s a privilege to work with partners who bring such diverse approaches and experience to the table.”

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