Yukiko Stranger-Galey: The Beaty Biodiversity Museum at the University of British Columbia sits on the traditional ancestral and unceded territory of the Musqueam First Nation.
While the museum itself is less than ten years old, the collections that we house – the biological collections - actually date back to over a century. We explore biodiversity from a scientific perspective and this is our first project as a solo museum to work with Musqueam to explore biodiversity through the lens of Indigenous knowledge.
You can see by the museum map here at the bottom and a view into the museum public floor at the top, that is a more unusual space that we work with.
The museum itself was originally conceived of as a research space, a storage space for the research specimens that we house and one day a week we are closed for exclusive research access. However, the other six days a week we are open to the public and the researchers simultaneously and they both access the same space, which makes for very interesting and unusual experience.
These rows of cabinets that you see here house the 2.1 million natural history specimens on the museum public floor and some of which we display through exhibit windows that are cut into the cabinets themselves.
This exhibit that we're talking about today actually starts with a previous exhibit which was conceived of a couple of years ago. We were involved in a collaborative exhibit with UBC's Museum of Anthropology called "Culture at the Center", and this brought together six different First Nations communities across British Columbia.
The 35-foot sturgeon harpoon which you can see here, suspended in the Museum of Anthropology, and this was a modern recreation of a fishing tool that had not been crafted in generations, not since the Musqueam had self-imposed a moratorium on sturgeon fishing out of concern for the health and population of this particular species.
Now unfortunately our Musqueam partners can't be with us in Ottawa today, but I would like to take this moment to introduce you to two of our main collaborators on this project.
On the left is Morgan Guerin and he is a fisheries officer, a Musqueam Knowledgekeeper, an elected councillor, and the maker of the harpoon you saw in the previous slide.
On the right we have Jason Woolman who is a senior archivist with Musqueam and has worked very closely with us on the entirety of this project.
As part of culture at the center, we actually did a little satellite exhibition in our own Museum and you can see a portion of that here. We told a small amount of the story of the sturgeon harpoon and sturgeon fishing alongside jarred specimens of sturgeon fish that we had from our own collection.
But what I want to actually point your attention to is the panel on the far right. This is actually a sturgeon harpoon knowledge web that was put together by Jason Woolman.
And in the center, there's a little picture of the harpoon and radiating out from this are all the materials that are required and come together to make the harpoon itself. Now each of those materials represents an organism that this material is derived from.
The knowledge to create this harpoon was accumulated slowly over a great length of time by Morgan through conversations with Elders, Knowledge Keepers, memories, stories that were passed down, little pieces of information that were thrown out in passing, and, of course, his own trial and error as he worked with these different materials.
If you look at each of the organisms that are surrounding this harpoon, each of those organisms has its own constellation of knowledge that radiates out from it and those relate to the ecological context, the linguistic context, the cultural context that each of those organisms hold to Musqueam.
Now when you listen to Morgan and Jason talk about these organisms, their context, and how they connect to each other, these connections come alive in a way that can't really be represented by a diagram like this.
So we decided to work together on a project that would somehow take all this incredible information and knowledge and present it in a way that would really bring this story, this knowledge to a very personal and immersive experience to our visitors.
And we did this by creating a digital web-based exhibition. This highlights six of the organisms from the knowledge web and the stories of each of those organisms is told to you, wherever possible, in first-person.
So if you're on the website, you can read quotes from Jason you can listen to audio from Morgan, and you can watch video of Morgan as he assembles the harpoon.
Now the development of this as a digital exhibition was actually key to our goals of sharing first-person or authentic knowledge, enabling a wide reach to communities that couldn't visit us in person and also for its persistence as a living exhibition that can be continually added to over time and shared with each new generation of the Musqueam community.
In the absence of a Musqueam representative they have given me a statement that I would like to share with you today. This statement is from Morgan, Jason, also Leona Sparrow who is the Musqueam representative liaison to the University of British Columbia, and also Renee Stogan who is the supervisor of Musqueam Children's House.
"For Musqueam, our traditional territory and all that we steward are more than just lands and resources; they are entry points to aspects of our language, territory, health, technology, and our society and the respect and responsibilities that accompany them; they are part of a larger web of mutually dependent knowledge.
While these relationships were inherent in our ancestors ways of knowing, lack of access to our territory and its resources have rendered this understanding increasingly difficult to transmit intergenerationally.
This exhibition facilitates much-needed engage in cultural and language revitalization and continuity opportunities for our community, specifically attuned to Musqueam's traditional ways of knowing and learning styles."
As well as the digital exhibition, the six organisms on the website itself also correlate with six locations in our physical museum, where you can have a physical or digital experience with that organism, which adds another layer of connection and depth to this way of knowing for our visitors.
For example, scouring rush is a plant that is used as sandpaper and by touching a real specimen you can actually feel the roughness of its surface and you gain an instant understanding of how and why it is used.
Both the digital and physical components showcase the common and the scientific name that you can see in the upper left here and primacy is given to the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ name in recognition of the way of knowing that we are sharing.
By using the digital exhibition in tandem with the physical space of the museum, visitors are able to listen to audio, view photographs, watch videos, view specimens, and even in some cases touch specimens, and this multi-layered approach actually deepens the engagement with the exhibit content and it also allows for multiple points of access for those with different abilities and also different learning styles.
Derek Tan: We wanted to also create an immersive experience for describing the sturgeon hunt itself.
When you listen to Morgan tell the story, you are the hunter and you are suddenly in a canoe on the Fraser River and you're on the end of our harpoon that could be as tall as this room and hunting for a sturgeon that is twice as tall as a person.
And the sturgeon is at the bottom of the river and you're using the harpoon like a rod to sense the texture of the bottom of the river to know the difference between a rock and a sturgeon.
When you hear him tell it, it's amazing and it's engaging and you can't help it be moved by the experience. But if I take you to our museum and our fish collection and I show you a baby sturgeon in a jar, it doesn't quite get the experience across.
But, I can try to do it digitally.
So, this is an immersive 360 degree experience, which should come to life in a second, and this allows you to go into the river. So, when it startsmoving...there we go!
This is a 360 photo of the space over which I've Illustrated and incorporated photos. This includes some of the interactivity of virtual or augmented reality, except it doesn't take any of the difficulty.
This is done in a way which could be done by community museums, by classrooms anywhere across the country. It includes knowledge points, which show you more information about specific organisms.
And here you see the sturgeon at the bottom of the museum, or the river, and you see the points of the harpoon tipped with eagle feathers to sense the textures, and as we go up, you see how long the harpoon was- taller than our ceilings - and there is the canoe in which you would be standing if you were the hunter, feeling the vibrations coming up the shaft.
So this gives you an experience that is much different than me showing you a specimen and different than someone telling you this story by itself. You, in this situation, are in the water...virtually.
You're actually on a mobile device. It's all web-based so there's no apps and no installation. But you would be in our space and the space would change around you.
Your mobile device allows you to reveal a layer of knowledge, which was always on the land, but now it is in front of your eyes.
So if we can give people the experience of seeing this layer of Indigenous knowledge, not just in the museum, but also into their daily lives, as they leave, as they walk around, and as they see the same organisms out in the world, then we've succeeded in making this history and this Indigenous knowledge personal to them.
And we're not done. This is another video, and what we're doing right now is we are still working with Musqueam, and we are collaborating with Morgan to get more content, more video of him talking about this experience.
We're also incorporating native speakers who can pronounce the names in hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ so you can hear them as they're supposed to be spoken.
We are working with teachers. We love teachers and they are giving us feedback on how they want this to be a resource within their classrooms.
We are also grateful to the Canadian Museums Association and everyone involved in bringing us here today. As well as the British Columbia Museums Association who recognized this with an innovation award last fall.
And the best measure of success that we've had so far is probably that Musqueam want a private version of this experience to go into their daycare so that they can use this virtual space to pass on this knowledge to their children.
So we are so grateful to our Musqueam partners, all of the Knowledge Keepers over the years who have shared this with everyone down to us, especially through Morgan Guerin and, as well as Jason Woolman, all our friends and colleagues at the Museum of Anthropology, and of course all of you today for hearing this from us and for making this a wonderful day and an experience for all of us to share.
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