Galiano Indigenous family reconnection celebrated through exhibit

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Come sit at the kitchen table, the Water We Call Home exhibition beckons, and listen to a circle of women from around the Salish Sea speak of their connections to fish, water and family. 

The gatherings were significant, in that they were the first ones made by these family members in over 100 years.

The films are created by Simon Fraser University School of Interactive Arts & Technology post-doctoral researcher and filmmaker Jessica Hallenbeck, Coast Salish and Sahtu Dene artist Rosemary Georgeson, SIAT professor Kate Hennessy and their team as well as artist Richard Wilson. Georgeson, Hallenbeck and Hennessy are also the co-curators of the exhibition, on now at the Yellowhouse Art Centre on Galiano Island. 

Dene photographer Kali Spitzer also captured a traditional food harvest and preparation gathering on camera, present in the exhibition. 

The exhibit invites viewers to both witness Indigenous women’s strong connection to “fish, water and family,” and to think about what decolonization means in this context, as well as “to envision a future where Indigenous identity is structured through water and family rather than colonial law.”

In an introduction to the exhibition, Georgeson wrote that the challenge she has for Galiano residents and visitors to the exhibition is to understand more about the land they call home through the eyes of Indigenous people and through what was here before colonialism, as well as the impacts of colonialism.

“Our stories are part of that land. They were there in that land and in those waters long before it was known as Galiano,” she wrote. 

“This work by Indigenous women is changing the story, it is bringing healing back to a place that was ripped apart and turned over by impacts of colonialism, the racial attitudes of the old ones, the old grandfathers, in how they took the mothers away from the children,” Georgeson stated. “We came back. We gave voice to these things that happened.”

The coming together of the women stems from a “lifetime of research” by Georgeson and her 10 years spent collaborating with Hallenbeck.

“Their work together has led to the recovery of the identities of Georgeson’s ancestral grandmothers and to a reconnection with their descendants,” a news release on the exhibit stated. 

Georgeson wrote that she always knew growing up that “something was missing, not where it should be. There was a part of you that wasn’t there.” Georgeson recalled moments, like seeing someone who looks familiar yet now knowing who they were, and thought about who her family was and who they belonged to. Her father did some things that she now realizes were part of ceremony, yet this wasn’t spoken of.

“History denied us the right to know each other,” she stated. 

The Water We Call Home exhibition is open Tuesdays to Sundays until Aug. 21, between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

The Yellowhouse Art Centre is at 2517 Sturdies Bay Rd.

Visit www.thewaterwecallhome.com for more details.

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