Musqueam tell their story through tours

Test run showcases nation’s traditional territory

Musqueam elders have long taught their kin they’re guardians of the Fraser River and don’t have to beat their own drums.

But times are changing.

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“Long ago and still today, our people were very modest,” said Musqueam researcher and outreach coordinator Terry Point, who led the second of three pilot Musqueam Tours June 21. “We were a very large nation, a powerful nation, so if you didn’t know who we were, you’d quickly find out.”

Referring to the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations, he noted “a lot of other people are beating their drums really hard, so we need to step up to the plate and inform people that this is truly our traditional territory.”

The Musqueam Indian Band partnered with the Vancouver Heritage Foundation to test run the Musqueam Tour: Witness It, Remember It, Tell It.

“This is actually a very big step for our community to do this type of tour,” Point said.

The first stop on the bus tour was nothing to look at. But after participants peered through a chain-link fence toward the Fraser River at the foot of the Arthur Laing Bridge, Point spoke of the Musqueam village site, c’na?em, that has been occupied for 5,000 years.

The Museum of Anthropology, Museum of Vancouver and the Musqueam will mount an exhibit about the village in January 2015, called c’na?em: The City Before the City.

“At the same time of some of the major civilizations around the world — Egyptian, Roman — we were here occupying this land and had an extremely wide, diverse network of technology that is extraordinary,” Point said.

Up to five thousand of an estimated total of 150,000 Musqueam people who once populated the mouth of the Fraser River lived at c’na?em in homes with permanent house posts, cedar planks and removable cedar skins, for when seasonal activities took them elsewhere.

In Stanley Park, Point said the Musqueam practised “up-ground” internment of the dead as he nodded to the burial site-turned naval reserve at Deadman’s Island.

Bodies were placed in trees until their flesh rotted away. A designated person in the community cared for the bones and interned them above ground.

Point pointed out his “aunty” Susan Point’s welcome portals at the nearby Totem Park, explaining the Musqueam carved welcome figures, not totem poles.

“When we had peace, the welcome poles would be out with their hands up,” Point said. “When we weren’t having peace, the hands would be down. So if the hands were down and you came into our traditional territory… there were repercussions.”

Asked about the relationships between the Musqueam and the Squamish, Point described it as a “love/hate” connections, adding the Musqueam name for Point Atkinson means to put someone’s head under water, whereas the Squamish word means turning around point.

The Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations all lay claim to Stanley Park.

The tour progressed along English Bay, through Kitsilano to Locarno Beach and up to the Museum of Anthropology at the University of B.C.

Point said his great grandfather spent his summers along the coast in what’s now West Point Grey and endured his grandmother talking from dawn to dusk. Point said his great grandfather finally understood what the incessant talking was about when he found at age 30 he could recite the names of his family members 25 generations back and the lineage of other families for 16 generations.

“You weren’t allowed to tell a story until you could recite it word for word,” Point said.

Three Musqueam youth learned about their history and culture from elders to lead tours, which were made possible with money from the Vancouver Foundation and the City of Vancouver.

“With today’s tour, we’re not exploring the built history of the last 150 years, but have the opportunity to learn another layer of Vancouver’s history,” said Karen Estrin, a special project coordinator with the Vancouver Heritage Foundation.

She said the heritage foundation hopes to incorporate the Musqueam Tour and more aboriginal history into the heritage foundation’s regular programming.

The next Musqueam Tour runs July 27. For more information, see

VIDEO: Musqueam hip-hop artist Christie Lee Charles, a.k.a. Miss Christie Lee, raps about life, culture and empowerment, often using the Down river dialect of Halkomelem.

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