For this National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we wanted to focus on one of the stories shared by Cecil Dawson in his exhibition on display at the Museum called Standing in the Gap.
This exhibit hopes that by focusing on how colonization has directly affected one family and one artist, its true impact can be understood. Cecil does not just seek to highlight a hurtful past through his work, but also hopes to shine a light on a way forward and demonstrate what reconciliation in Canada can be.
As he was guiding visitors through the exhibit this past spring, Cecil reminded us that colonization was always about the land.
“The scariest book I ever read was an atlas of British Columbia. It was filled with different maps of BC, each page showing a different type of resource: trees to be harvested, minerals to be mined, rivers that could be dammed. Nowhere in that book was there any sign of us (Indigenous people). I’d never read anything so scary.”
Through a series of original paintings on nautical charts, Cecil explores his own understanding of the history of the lands and waters of BC’s coast.
“I spent 30 years fishing with my dad, gillnetting on the boat every year. For 30 years we fished in Rivers Inlet in the summer, and during the spring season we went herring fishing in the Gulf near Denman and Hornby Islands. In April and May, we went longlining for halibut off the north end of Vancouver Island. Our fishing ended in the fall; we would gillnet for chum in the Qualicum River area. Back then, when we travelled, we would stop to talk to other fishermen we recognized; to visit and catch up on the news.
“We would tie up beside each other and drift and we would have a communal lunch. Somebody would make a big pot of stew, and somebody would bring bread or biscuits, somebody would bring jam and peanut butter, somebody would make tea. We all sat on the deck of the biggest boat, that had the most space, and that’s where the stories would come out.
“There were always stories from the old people, about sea creatures, Dzunuḵ̓wa sightings, and spiritual transformations. These stories always fascinated me; our country, forests, mountains, and seas came alive with history and myth.
“The chart paintings on display are the actual charts we had on our boat. The subject matter on these charts are the actual locations that these occurrences, sightings, or spiritual transformations happened. If you look closely, you can see markings and notes that my father had made.”
These painted charts speak to Cecil’s intimate knowledge of the coast. His painting of Indigenous histories and stories overtop of Canadian nautical charts full of English place names, is a quiet way of reclaiming and asserting Indigenous sovereignty over the territories shown on the charts.
If you haven’t yet had an opportunity to visit the exhibit, it will be on display at the Museum until Nov. 6. For the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation there will be free admission to the Museum. We invite you to come spend some time to learn more about the history of colonization and its impacts from an Indigenous perspective either before or after you’ve taken in the ceremonies being hosted downtown in Spirit Square.
And remember to check the Museum’s website and social media pages for updates on Cecil’s next guided tour.