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On September 16, Vancouver Maritime Museum (VMM) launches Canoe Cultures :: Ho’-ku-melh – War Canoes and the Gifts They Carry Forward. Curated by Indigenous artist Roxanne Charles, this multi-sensory exhibition focuses on the canoe as a symbol of strength and resilience.

Canoe Cultures :: Ho’-ku-melh features the work of Indigenous artists and canoe carvers alongside historical and contemporary images of Indigenous canoe racing.

“The exhibition offers museum-goers an opportunity to learn from the rich history of the lands and waters on which the museum is situated,” says Curator Roxanne Charles. “The War Canoe offers so much and is tied deeply to community health, well-being, land stewardship and activism.”

Emerging and practicing artists that include T’uy’t’tanat, Cease Wyss, Manuel Axel StainChristi Lee CharlesCaleb Ellison-DysartJessey Sue Tustin and Caitlyn Alec have created works that explore identity, place, culture, story and environmental concerns. Art mediums represented in the exhibition include canoe carving, painting, weaving, apparel, beadwork, sculpture, felting, glass etching, poetry, performance and video.

Canoe Cultures :: Ho’ku-melh also explores the ongoing work of the Canoe Cultures program, an Indigenous-led initiative to teach young people to build war canoes. The Canoe Cultures program is led by seventh-generation skwxwu7mesh carver Mike Billy Sr.

“At the turn of the previous century, canoe races were an important part of our daily and cultural life. The canoe was especially important to our people when potlatches and other large gatherings were banned by the government because the canoe gave us the one opportunity to celebrate and meet as a group during these times,” says Mike Billy Sr., Master Carver. “The exhibition will tell these stories but also show the steps and resiliency needed for us to move forward and overcome these obstacles.”

“The VMM is honoured to host this exhibition and to share Indigenous maritime traditions with our audience,” says VMM curator Duncan MacLeod.

“My hope is that this exhibition is empowering to Indigenous bodies and opens up conversations about Indigenous rights. May it bring inspiration, desire, strength and knowledge to those who visit,” says curator Roxanne Charles.