Art as Law

“Our art represents laws and histories from our potlatch culture, and the matriarchy is inherent in the art form. Totem poles and frontlets were and are our legally binding documents. The state’s personal history, land ownership, and other legal rights. Much of this has been taken away.

My favourite place is my ancestral village site along the Skeena River, where I have spent many years salmon fishing. If you look at our traditional definition of wealth, it is the land and the people. The Ts’msyen has four major crests: the Eagle, Killer Whale, Wolf and Raven. These crests represent our responsibilities to the land, ancestors and our living clan, House, hereditary chief and matriarchs. Important leaders today wear elaborate regalia which legitimizes their cultural status, such as robes, frontlets and adornment related to their position.

Colonialism introduced patriarchal values into our potlatch and governance systems. Colonial systems and laws, including the Indian Act, led to residential schools, the potlatch ban, the 60s scoop, broken families and many decades of intergenerational trauma. In recent years, there has been a disproportionate focus on the recognition of chiefs, often for the purpose of signing land rights agreements for pipelines, dams and resource extraction.

I believe we need to be aware of these influences and how they are affecting our people.

As artists, we have a responsibility to resist allowing colonization to be perpetuated through the art form. We must remember that the matriarch has the ultimate power in our communities.”

– Morgan Asoyuf