By Mina Kerr-Lazenby
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Nestled within the North Vancouver City Library, found among the rows upon rows of crisp books, lies a new exhibition that is at once humble and vivid in its showcasing of S?wx?wu7mesh (Squamish) culture.
The exhibit, put together in conjunction with the Museum of North Vancouver and running until Dec. 6, comprises a small collection of handcrafted Squamish regalia that have been handmade by Janine Salsi’miya Gonzales, spanning clothing, accessories and musical instruments.
“One thing the library has really tried to do in the last several years is honour the people whose land we’re on, and to make that a bit more visible with the kind of programming and work that the library does,” said Abigail Saxton, spokeswoman for North Vancouver City Library
“This is a great learning opportunity, to understand that this isn’t culture that happened several hundreds or thousands of years ago, this is alive and it is still fascinating, and we really are honoured to celebrate that.”
For years artist Gonzales has been working alongside the library on various projects and endeavours, but it wasn’t until they came together as part of the Sema7maka famil, a small gathering of people who navigate the Squamish Nation’s canoe, Sema7mak, that the idea came about for an exhibit.
“Part of Janine’s role in the canoe family is making regalia for other members of the family,” said Saxton.
“We got talking about it one day, and she mentioned how she started doing regalia back in the ’90s. When she showed me some of the pieces, I thought they were so beautiful and amazing that I immediately thought we had to find a way to display them at the library.”
ales, who is hard of hearing, studied her craft later in life through a disability program at Capilano University. As a recovering alcoholic and survivor of the residential school system, the classes and the chance to immerse herself in creation provided a way to reconnect with her culture and heal from past trauma.
“It taught me to heal myself from the inside out. It gave me back my strength, my confidence, and my self-esteem to live life the best I can, one day at a time,” she said.
Gonzales said many people all over the world “have creative gifts and talents and potential,” and anyone can do anything once they set their mind to it, “in a very positive way.”
The display comprises many of Gonzales’ favourite pieces: the regalia, with crest designs made from felt, was one of the first she ever made, and the graduation hat presents a symbol of her Squamish Nation.
A hand-woven vest is adorned with a bear and a wolf, each representing family clans, and an eagle, which represents the “spirit which carries our prayers to the oneness,” she said.
Sitting alongside them is a stole emblazoned with the symbol of BCANDS, the program that provides disability-related support to Indigenous communities, drums and rattles crafted from deer hide, and a medicine bag used to carry precious stones and tobacco.
“What our community can learn from this exhibit is how we, as First Nations people, were taught to do everything by hand,” said Gonzales.
“It is the oldest teachings from our culture, that teaches us to have patience, compassion, understanding and learning.”
Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.