Breathe Life by Crystal Smith de Molina

Breathe Life

Walkways are silence
An eerie feeling looms
I look around and see death
No worse
Life without death

You can almost hear the screams of the artifacts
Screams to mother earth
From which they were born
From which they belong

People say they are just items
But protocol
Aboriginal protocol says different
We breathe life into everything we make
Breathe life
Totem poles
Each possessing power
Each possessing life
Each possessed

Museums preserve life
Museums prevent death
Museums break the cycle of life
Break the cycle of death

Circular to

Circular to

Each step
Eyes widen
Heart slows
Thump thump    Thump thump… …thump… … …thump
As if my body
Is caught between
Life Death
Sprayed with chemicals
Or not moved
Just  always there

Just lifeless



A broken cycle
A devastating cycle
A deathless cycle
A cycle of constant
Even though the only constant should be


Pipe Dreams by Danette Jubinville

Every time I enter the Museum of Anthropology (MOA), I feel hopeful that this time it will be different. I feel good, at first, in the minimalist space, enveloped by concrete, natural light, and high ceilings. Tucked between cedars, on the edge of a cliff that overlooks the windy Pacific, MOA is located on a powerful, spiritual piece of land. But it doesn’t take long before the bitterness and resentment start to wash over me. I see and hear that MOA is trying. Artworks by Musqueam artists stand at the entrance, evidence that a more positive relationship is being forged between the institution and the Indigenous peoples on whose traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory the institution stands. But as soon as I enter through the doors, and I feel the spirits of the totems standing there, so far from home, I start to feel sick. Uprooted. That is the word that came to me on my first visit, and it is the word that still haunts me. I come upon my partner’s family house post, and I speak to my great-grandfather-in-law. Meegwich moshum. Thank-you for standing here. You are loved. You are missed. You are remembered. By the time I enter the multiversity gallery I can’t keep the disdain off my face. I remind myself that MOA is doing some great work to create space for relationship building. Native youth give tours. Some of the display cases are curated in partnership with First Nations. But the walls and the drawers are so crammed full of items, I wonder how the spirits have room to breathe. To move. To dance. There are so many masks, drums, carvings, baskets, and tools it is as if I have entered an ethnographic hoarding situation. Why are these here? How did they get here? Who do these belong to? I am not the first person to ask these questions. They are questions folks who tour the museum, who write about the museum, and who work at the museum constantly ask.

Moving on, the tour starts to get more personal. I come upon the small section devoted to the Plains. My people. A relative’s moccasins. A relative’s headdress. A relative’s basket.  I look closely at the glass display cases.  If I am entirely honest, my agitation is coupled with a bit of desperation.  I am looking for medicines, looking for signs of my relatives. It is part of my search to recover my own Nahkawe-Nehiyaw identity, something that was also seized temporarily by colonization.  I am looking for something that might help quell the ancestral grief that lives in my bones, if just for today. I put my hand on the cool copper handle of the drawer beneath the glass case. I have heard these drawers are special. Imported from Europe. Very expensive, you know. The drawer slides open gracefully.  I almost cry out when I see what is inside. Sacred pipes. I am told that Pipes were given to the world to help to heal the people. Pipes are meant to smoked, to carry our prayers to Gihzwe Manido. Pipes are meant to be in ceremony. Pipes are meant to be lovingly carried in beaded buckskin, and feasted.  And here they are, sitting in a bourgeois anthropological museum, objects of curiosity.


It has been over a month since I saw the pipes at the MOA, and I am still thinking about them. I see how much healing my Indigenous communities, friends, and family need, and I know those pipes can help to do that work. It is hard for me to know that they are in there, unable to carry out their original instructions.  I could hear the pipes singing songs of sadness, loneliness…their spirits are hungry for love.

Following my encounter with the pipes at MOA, I felt inspired to respond. I drew a comic strip, titled “pipe dreams”, which allowed me to explore new possibilities through imagination and fantasy. While pipe dreams is clearly a critique of museums, and MOA in particular, it is not meant to discount the good work that is being done in those institutions.  The Museum of Anthropology is a world leader for its progressive policy reform and extensive efforts to work collaboratively with Indigenous peoples, thanks to Indigenous activism and visionary work done by museum staff. Community outcry to past displays of sacred ceremonial objects has resulted in teachable moments for both the institutions and the public. Today, an empty display case in the Multiversity Gallery makes a statement that educates visitors on respect for cultural protocol. Evidence of the institution’s humility, many exhibits at MOA provoke interrogation of museum practices. And perhaps the most encouraging aspect of MOA is that it has demonstrated a commitment to working with the Indigenous community.  In these ways, MOA has shown that museums can simultaneously be sites of colonization and decolonization.

And yet, I cannot ignore the way I felt in my body and spirit during my last visit.  Sometimes I wonder, why do museums have to exist, as a given?  I see the value in galleries displaying objects, art, and artifact with permission of those who made them (or their descendants). But for those items that were stolen or otherwise dishonourably acquired, for the items that are shown with question marks on their identification cards…do those items have to be kept? It cannot be ignored that MOA is a multi-million dollar facility that draws in tourists. What message is being sent to those who do not have the tools to think so critically, or those who are not so familiar with the nuanced histories and context of MOA and its collection? While those questions are important, the questions that are really on my mind, and that I mean to pose with pipe dreams, are this: What are our responsibilities, as Indigenous peoples, to objects that were given to use to care for by our ancestors, but are now locked behind glass?  And, knowing that they may or may not eventually return to our communities, how can we feed their spirits?

Danette Jubinville, 3rd Year FNSP Major, Saulteaux, Cree, French, German, Jewish, Scottish & English ancestry

To recognize trickster by Crystal Smith de Molina

To recognize trickster

Trickster was a crafty spirit
Shape shifting
He took many forms in the past
Raven, coyote, …
In the past he was

In the present he is
Today we look around
His face all around
He is inside our bodies
He hides behind our eyes
Hides behind our eyes
Our eyes

We see stereotypes through our eyes
We look at others and Judge
Judge their looks
Apply the appropriate stereotype
Act according to that stereotype

It is that trickster that creates stereotypes
He creates them within our eyes
So we see nothing but them
A clever spirit ready to create problems
Ready to separate
Ready to judge
Ready to fight

However we are clever
We are wise
We know right from wrong
We know what hurts
Know suffering
Know pain
Know bad judgment

And we know that no is different than know
That we should say no suffering
No pain
No judgement
And know right from wrong
We should take it upon ourselves to know people
To love people
To cherish our lives with each other
And to walk with soft steps
To recognize trickster
To pull that clever spirit from our bodies
To clean our eyes with truth
To know ourselves

It is up to us to know trickster
And to say no more
To be idle no more
To remember the true purpose
Of tricksters actions
Which is to teach
To become knowledgeable
To say no to stereotypes
And to know each other

Crystal Smith de Molina


Will Trade

This past Sunday, I attended the Elders Craft Fair at the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre. My shopping list included smoked salmon, beaded earrings, and hopefully (fingers crossed!) some bannock. The gymnasium was full of tables with Kookum’s and Mushum’s selling their wares; deer hide roses, cedar weaved baskets and jewelry, stunning beaded creations, carvings and gorgeous Cowichan sweaters, bags and hats (take that Aritzia). My shopping list was successfully fulfilled by the end of the morning, however the most memorable part of my Elders Craft Fair experience was a small sign at a table that read “Will Trade”.

I immediately thought of the system of trade that had been unintentionally set up between a small community of Indigenous students on UBC campus. Last year, I was gifted a large amount of moose meat. Upon preparing it in a slow-cooker for eight hours, I gifted the majority of it to friends that I knew would appreciate its origins as a Moose that had been tracked by hunters who understood the importance of respectively hunting and harvesting an animal. The following weeks, I was gifted Elk sausage, more Moose meat, Deer, and Salmon. This system of trade has persisted and I am reminded of the resurgence of the Potlatch System, where our economies were supported by giving and not consuming. I could have easily consumed that Moose all to myself, but my sending it out into a community of loved ones, I was gifted a diverse and rich amount of meat and friendship. The Elders sign signified an intelligible and community oriented way of accumulating wealth: through building relations and giving for the purpose of trade. I cannot imagine a more powerful form of community oriented and anti-capitalist, grassroots resurgence.

Untitled Poem by Anna McKenzie

Sometimes in the midst of my day to day life, I am overcome with a sadness when I see one of my brothers or sisters struggling with the life they have inherited as an Indigenous person. I wrote this piece on my phone while I was on the bus, watching an Indigenous brother struggle with alcohol. I observed the looks he received by other riders on the bus, of pity and disgust. I listened helplessly as the bus driver asked him to get off the bus, and the shame he felt. I felt my own shame for not being able to stand up for him in that moment, to explain to everyone what led this man to this place of darkness. Instead, I wrote a poem. 

He could have been a warrior

He could have been a leader

He could have been a provider

A protector of his people

Instead he sits on corners

Displaced from his land and spirit

His identity was stolen

From those who sought to possess it


She could have been a warrior

She could have been a leader

She could have had a voice

To be valued by her people

Instead she talks to no one

And struggles in her silence

Her voice and power were stolen

By those who sought to possess it

Grandfather by Ookishkimaanisii Johnston


no one would ever call you traditional

you’re not an oldschoolindian bristling with sage and sweet grass

you sing in church, sit in your chair strum your banjo smoke drink

shoot squirrels and raccoons from the porch.

But your mother wrapped you in the Indian way, and she taught your sisters

who swaddled me tight and secured, stopped my squalling

I fell asleep right away

You were in the bush when you were three years old

(did you carry a gun bigger than you)

(did you talk to the spirits then, did you walk in their world, before the priests?)

I’ve seen you hunt; I’ve seen you clean your kills. You taught me.

Mishom, Nimishomis,

I know you beat that priest up when he hit your brother

that you ran away from the residential school, that you made it all the way home

how many days, how many nights, did you spend alone in the bush, on the road

(but you were never really alone, were you?)

You joined the army then, you’re a veteran now. You carry the flags

into the pow wow grand entry, handsome in your pressed uniform, shined buttons

Mishomis, you’re a warrior, aren’t you, but no one would ever call you traditional.

Who would you be

Who would I be if they never took you? Would your low voice

burn warm with the words of our people? Would you sit next to me in ceremonies

I got my clan from you. What’s your name, the one

Creator gave you before you were born in the same room where you watch TV?

My mother reads the missionaries’ records and tells me stories

she translates to English from French from our language,

Nimishomis, those stories should come from you.

My Kokum Tells Stories by Samantha Nock

My Kokum Tells Stories

The inspiration for this piece came from reading Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies, in which she discusses the value of listening to a person’s story as a legitimate living archive. It made me think of my little old kokum, sitting at her kitchen table up in Fort St. John, BC, who loves nothing more than to tell stories, because that’s what she does:

My kokum, she tells stories, she gossips… on the phone, in the bingo hall, at the friendship centre, at the Metis office, or at her kitchen table.  She is always talking, talkin’ about other people, talking about the old times, talking about the times she wants to live to see.

When I was younger,  I always laughed about this, because she’s always talking about “that one time” or “Johnny (my mosom) remember when…” or “Mum used to…” or “When we were kids…” or “The nuns…”.  I used to pass these stories off as my kokum just talkin’ to talk about something… but the more I realize it, she was doing something that is inherently Metis. 

She’s telling stories, she’s talking about people and places of our past, our culture, stories of how she used to collect medicines with her dad up in Sakitawak, and which medicines were good for tea when you had a cold, about the spirits who talked to her at Lac Ste. Anne, or how the nuns were cruel to her when she spoke Cree in residential school.   My kokum’s lived experiences are an integral part of my life, entwined through her stories are parts of our shared history.  This is a history I can’t find written on archived pieces of paper, where my ancestor’s first name is “Scrip”, last name “Holder”.  Hidden within my kokum’s stories are histories deeper than HBC trade logs and country wives; her words are our history from our community.  All these stories she tells us, every time she is gossiping about something that happened, these are all things that connect her to her daughters, her daughters to their children, me to her and my mother to me.  The laughing, the gossiping, the story telling at my kokum’s kitchen table while we drink cheap black coffee… that’s decolonization. 


I am a casualty by Crystal Smith de Molina

I dive into the ocean

Submerging myself in beauty

The soft bed rocks beneath me

The sweet sound of songs

From whales near by

The scuttling of king crab

And chatter of school fish

I dove into Beauty…

As I opened my eyes

I saw nothing

And felt everything

I was choking

I rose from the water; which was supposed to embrace my body

Yet it entangled me

And I could not break free

I was covered in thick darkness

My whole body felt ill

The slick oil slithered down my throat

Into my lungs it crept

Every branch of air engulfed in dirty oil

My heart pumping

My heart slowing as oil reaches it

My blood flowing

My blood weighed down and blocked by oil

I am dying

My body is filled with oil

They try and save me

Cleaning my outer limbs

But how will they clean my heart

Which weeps black tears

How will I breathe?

 When oil has contaminated my lungs

I am nothing

But a casualty of blind greed

Collateral damage

Money before life

Oil before water

Country “benefits” before citizens

Growth before stability

I am dead

But at least they tried to save me?

Crystal Smith de Molina is from the Tsimshian and Haisla Nation and has been a resident of Vancouver for ten years. She is married and has two wonderful children. Crystal is a full-time student at the University of British Columbia in NITEP (Native Indian Teacher Bachelor of Education Program).