Spatial Resurgence: Reflecting on Claiming Space by Laura Mars

Spatial Resurgence: Reflecting on Claiming Space
by Laura Mars

Walking through the museum of anthropology (MOA) to reach the Claiming Space exhibit was a dichotomous and affective experience. Standing in the central part of the museum, I was in full view of the lush xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) lands that surround and house this campus, this city, myself and other settlers, and the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island to whom the land is rightfully and inherently bound. I felt that I was being pulled in two directions. In the first I was overwhelmed by the beauty of these pieces, which remained powerful in spite of their context, and of the landscape surrounding them, which I am often astounded and overwhelmed by. In the second I understood the museum—and the presence of these stolen artifacts—as part of the system of settler-colonialism from which I benefit from continually as a settler, and through which Indigenous peoples are continually dispossessed. With these things in mind, I hurried through the first part of the museum, in hopeful pursuit of an exhibit that would contrast what seemed like the overarching theme of the so-called ‘permanent collection.’

As I entered the Claiming Spaces: Voices of Aboriginal Youth exhibit, I immediately sensed a shift: this specific gallery was a site of Indigenous power, agency, and reclamation. As I walked through and observed art created by Indigenous youth, I was reminded of the work of Michi Saagig Nishnaabeg writer and scholar Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, who conceptualizes Indigenous resurgence through art as the creation of “decolonized time and space” (Simpson 96). In her book Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-Creation, Resurgence, and a New Emergence, Simpson discusses her experience viewing an exhibit titled Mapping Resistances – specifically the work of Nishnaabe performance artist Rebecca Belmore:

“[The piece] reminded us that we as Nishnaabeg people are living in political and cultural exile. Yet, it disrupted the narrative of normalized dispossession and intervened as Nishnaabeg presence — not as victim, but as a strong non-authoritarian Nishnaabekwe power…Indigenous artists like Belmore interrogate the space of empire, envisioning and performing ways out of it. Even if the performance only lasts twenty minutes, it is one more stone thrown in the water. It is a glimpse of a decolonized contemporary reality; it is a mirroring of what we can become.” (98)

I felt a similar disruption of this narrative of dispossession in Claiming Space, leaving room for the powerful message of Indigenous reclamation and resurgence. In Mixed Tribes, a zine created by the 2013 Native Youth Program students, Musqueam and Anishnaabe artist Kelsey Sparrow counters the complicated location of the exhibit within the walls of the museum of anthropology in her piece “This Is Not Native (?)”: “…if you want to go to Haida Gwaii because you love all the art here you should know that I have never met anyone in Charlotte City who really gives two shits about Bill Reid. This museum is about anthropology, not native people. You can learn about a part of us but not all.”

I viewed this exhibit as an incredibly necessary physical and temporal unsettling of an otherwise colonial space. Each work carried a powerful message of resurgence—even those, such as the video performance piece by Jeneen Frei Njootli, that unflinchingly tackled the ongoing effects of colonial violence upon Indigenous women in particular. I am turned back to Leanne Simpson and this idea of decolonized time and space, and art that is transformative. The Rebecca Belmore performance piece she is referring to in this discussion took place in Peterborough, which “is a bastion of colonialism” as experienced by Indigenous people (Simpson 97). “But,” Simpson says, “for twenty minutes in June, that bastion was transformed into an alternative space that provided a fertile bubble for envisioning and realizing Nishnaabeg visions of justice, voice, presence, and resurgence” (97). With a specific focus on the new medias that Indigenous youth are engaging with and shaping, Claiming Space is an important exhibit that is teeming with brilliant works of art and a powerful message of Indigenous resurgence.


Belmore, Rebecca. X. 2010. Peterborough, Ontario. Performance.

Simpson, Leanne. Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-Creation, Resurgence, and a New Emergence. Winnipeg. ARP Books, 2011. Print.

Sparrow, Kelsey. “This Is Not Native (?).” Mixed Tribes. Museum of Anthropology Vancouver. 2013. Web.


Laura Mars is a settler student and activist originally from former Yugoslavia, living on unceded Musqueam territory. A recent addition to the First Nations Studies program, she is in her fourth year of a double major in FNSP and GRSJ. She is interested in Indigenous new media studies, intentional communities, and anti-colonial feminisms.

‘Garbage Baggage’ from Halfbreed’s Reasoning

I wasn’t going to major in Native Studies.

I just wasn’t going to.

When I came to university, I had decided that I was going to earn a “legitimate” major: economics, political science, anything but Native Studies.  I wasn’t going to major in Native Studies because I didn’t want to be that Native kid.

I came to university with four garbage bags of luggage: two were my clothes and bedding and the two others were my internalized racism and shame.

I struggled so much in my first semester of university.  I felt disconnected from my classmates who seemed to know way more than I did in these topics.  I felt disconnected from home and I desperately clung to any I could that made me feel less away and more at home where I was.  I failed two courses my first semester: French and Economics.  I struggled to grasp and understand the topics at hand, I felt nothing towards them.  I hated university, I regretted coming my second week into school.  I drank with my friends, I gossiped with my roommate, and I didn’t do my homework.  I spent nights crying, thinking that I didn’t belong here.  I was a fake, an imposter, and that my failing was just proof that I needed to go home and stay home.  I needed to just give up and realize this place wasn’t for me.

I left my first semester of university with 46% and a hope and prayer I didn’t fail out.  It was that Christmas break at home I spent crying because I thought I had let my family down that I realized that  to make it in this system, that I had to fight to be here.  So I pretended to know what the hell I was talking about.  From Kant to Macroeconomics, I pretended that I could keep up with kids who seemed to be so far ahead of me and my Northern education.  These kids from the city knew so much.  I had no Native friends, no community, no connection, no feeling of belonging.  I made friends, and to this day, my friends I made in my first year are still near and dear to my heart, but something was missing.

In my second year I took the plunge and enrolled in First Nations Studies 100 and my entire academic and personal life changed: my world was turned upside down.  I sat in lectures with students who looked like they came from where I’m from, students who were just as mixed-up in this institution like I was.  I re-learned my history, I learned things about myself and my people that I never knew.  I finally felt connected to something at this school, I felt belonging.  I felt really fucking angry. I was angry because I was feeling feelings that thus far, the education system said I shouldn’t.  I was angry because I realized that everything I have learned about my country was a lie.  I was angry because I had realized just how much I was ashamed of who I am as a Metis woman and student.

Through my degree I have learned how to be angry.  I learned to be angry at the systems that made me feel so ashamed of myself, I learned how to identify them and resist them.  I learned acceptance and the responsibility I have to this land.  But, yet, I think most importantly, I’ve learned how to love: myself, my family, and my community (in all its forms) just as they are.  I have learned that colonial trauma presents itself in our lives in so many different ways, that we have to learn to love ourselves and others as they heal.  We have to have patience and understanding for one another because we are all on a rough and complicated journey to a destination that is still undefined.

Now that I’m graduating (god willing), I look back to my first year at UBC and I realize how scared I was to be here, how disconnected, and how tough I pretended to be.  I’m not saying that every Indigenous student needs to major in Native Studies, I’m saying that there’s an obvious flaw in the education system that I didn’t learn these integral things until I was 19.

Now that it’s over, I realize that even though I have no idea what to do with my life, I have fundamentally changed as a person.  My degree has given me so much and now I want to begin giving back.

It is coming to a point in my life, in all our lives as graduating students, that we have to learn to begin a new journey.  I am thankful everyday that the knowledge I have now has taught me how to fight, love, and resist through my next adventure.

Samantha Nock is a recent graduate of the First Nations Studies Program at UBC. She assisted in starting up the Indigenous Studies Undergraduate Journal as Editor, and served as Vice-President of the First Nations Studies Student Association (FNSSA). Her personal blog, Halfbreed’s Reasoning, has been shared across Canada and engages with Métis identity politics, academia, representation, and more. Her blog can be found here.

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.

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.