STANDING AT THE FOOT of a fifty-foot tall raven totem pole will put the fear of God in you. At least for me, it does. In the heart of the University of British Columbia's gorgeous ocean-side campus sits the Museum of Anthropology, filled with traditional arts from Canadian First Nations peoples, as well as exhibits with works by Urban Aboriginal Youths and indigenous cultures around the globe.
The permanent collection provides a holistic overview of Canadian First Nations, with pieces from tribes such as the Kwakwaka 'wakw, of whom only 5,500 members live today, most on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. Most First Nations languages are dying or fully extinct, though many signs throughout BC include indigenous names (a gesture debated by some).
Haida totems stand sentry in a glass hall illuminated entirely with natural daylight. From high perches, ravens grimace; salmon lash in geometric symmetry, wrapping upward in a tornado of animal spirits. The poles are positioned the way they would have been outside longhouse entryways, letting visitors know the house is watched and blessed by powerful guardians. Ceremonial masks depict Baxbakwalanuksiwe’ “The-Man-Eater-at the-North-End-of the-World”, a spirit who sent out his bird servants to kill men and bring them back as food. Traditionally, these masks were stored away, revealed only for sacred occasions; to have them on display is a sensitive subject for some tribes.
Vancouver, British Columbia