Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun’s Unceded Territories receives Vancouver Book Award

Book marries harsh political narrative, haunting memories, environmentalism and colonialism through three decades of First Nations artist’s life

Raw, uncomfortable and unflinching — First Nations artist Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun leaves little to the imagination in conversation or through his art.

His mixed media piece entitled “Residential School Dirty Laundry” is a perfect illustration of his panache for the provocative: it depicts a crucifix formed out of children’s underwear with red paint on it to mimic the presence of blood.

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“I look at the world and I analyze what I see happening around me,” he told the Courier Wednesday.  “And the world can be ugly.”

“Residential School Dirty Laundry” is part of a larger exhibit Yuxweluptun has on display at the Museum of Anthropology at UBC called Unceded Territories. A companion piece that serves as part book and part catalogue was named as the Vancouver Book Award winner on Oct. 3.

According to a city press release, the Vancouver Book Award recognizes works “which demonstrate excellence and contribute to an appreciation and understanding of Vancouver’s history, unique character, or achievements of its residents.” The shortlisted titles and winner are chosen by an independent jury, with winner receiving a cash prize of $3,000.

Through its 182 pages, Unceded Territories marries harsh political narrative, haunting memories, environmentalism and colonialism through three decades of Yuxweluptun’s life. The 58-year-old Vancouver resident provided the book’s paintings and drawings, while curators Karen Duffek and Tania Willard held down the editing and writing responsibilities.  

Yuxweluptun grew up near Kamloops and attended residential school in his early years. It left an indelible mark on him that he now tries to reconcile on canvas.

“This country hates Aboriginal people so much, that they don’t even want to look at us,” he said. “This is what Canada is about. This is a very racist, bigoted country. This is what we wake up to every day.”

As part of his exhibit at UBC, Yuxweluptun is encouraging dialogue and understanding. His assessment of the past is scathing, but he wants the conversation to move towards a model of truth and reconciliation that is tangible to First Nations people across Canada.

“Some natives just completely disagree with me, they say, ‘I just can’t get along with these people, they are just too racist,’” said Yuxweluptun, who is of Coast Salish and Okanagan descent. “But we have to start somewhere. We have to get along. I can reach out half way. It’s time for Canada to hug an Indian.” Another conversation Yuxweluptun helped start is a move to change the name of British Columbia to something that stresses inclusion rather than colonialism.

His preference is “New Nations,” and the museum is welcoming suggestions as well. “My objectives are always based in truth. Let’s change Canada so that we can have just one day where we aren’t racists and bigots towards Aboriginal people and let’s make it a national holiday. Let it go, Canada, and let Aboriginal people be who they are.”

The Vancouver Public Library hosts a Vancouver Book Award event with Yuxweluptun, Oct. 13, 6 p.m. at CBC Studio 700. The event is free and does not require registration.

Unceded Territories is on display at the Museum of Anthropology at UBC until Oct. 16.

@johnkurucz

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