The British colonists who arrived at what is now known as the City of Vancouver saw a resemblance between the twin peaks that crown the local landscape and the lion statues in London’s Trafalgar Square. However, these two mountain peaks, now widely known as “the Lions,” have a longer, more established history than their name denotes. They were, in fact, sisters who stopped a long war between the Squamish and Haida nations by marrying brothers from the opposing tribe. They brought peace and solidarity to the coastal people and were immortalized as the twin mountain peaks, watching over the land.
The identity of these mountains, their landscape, and their people have undergone great challenges. Dana Claxton’s Tatanka Wanbli Chekpa Wicincala (2006, part of a larger series) deals with issues of identity faced by First Nations people in the City of Vancouver and worldwide. Here, the twin sisters hold stuffed toys: a buffalo and an eagle—symbols of power and trust within the Lakota culture. However, their presentation as children’s toys—Western commodities—drains them of their symbolic meaning. Claxton’s work deals with the imposition of the new histories, structures, and perceptions on a culture that existed long before the City of Vancouver and continues to exist today.
This work is curated in relation to the theme of ćәsnaʔәm, the city before the city, an exhibition developed by the Museum of Vancouver, the Museum of Anthropology, and the Musqueam Cultural Education Resource Centre. Thanks to InTransit BC.