Roxanne Charles, Installation view of Honouring Our Women, 2021. Design: Vicky Lum. Photography by Rachel Topham Photography.
Honouring Our Women 2021
312 Main Street, 3rd floor boardroom window
Honouring Our Women is a mural by Semiahmoo artist and cultural historian Roxanne Charles, commissioned by Simon Fraser University for 312 Main. Previously the headquarters of the Vancouver Police Department, 312 Main is now a community-centred hub for social and economic innovation, and includes the offices of SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement, Lifelong Learning, Community-Engaged Research Initiative (CERi) and Public Square. Drawing together archival photographs alongside recent images captured at ceremonial events and on the front lines of protests, Charles creates a collage that centres resiliency, strength, and matrilineal systems of care.
Organized by SFU Galleries
Design by Vicky Lum
This work honours the long line of Indigenous women and matriarchs who, with their deep connections to these lands, have taken a stand for those who are unable to speak for themselves. Honouring Our Women documents their continued struggles, resilience, and strength in the face of ongoing violence from industry and the settler community in a system that continually ignores the importance and power of our women and matrilineal systems of care.
Violence against the land has always gone hand in hand with violence against our women and children. Like the wild salmon, we too are fighting for our children's future and our own existence. This work celebrates the strength of the Indigenous women of these lands at a time when industry continues to perpetuate violence against our very being.
Salish Peoples come from matriarchal systems of care where women are held in high regard. Young women are considered sacred. Prior to contact, all wealth was distributed down the female line, along with cultural knowledge and sacred responsibilities. These hereditary systems and practices are still in place today despite the many unjust laws targeting and displacing Indigenous women through colonial systems such as the Indian Act.
From 1867 to 1957, if an Indigenous woman married a non-Indigenous man, she was no longer recognized as a Status Indian and was therefore displaced from community systems; at the same time, if a non-Indigenous woman married an Indigenous man, she gained status. These colonial laws have lasting effects today and have displaced many Indigenous women from their communities into vulnerable spaces. Despite ongoing violence Indigenous women continue to celebrate their beauty and strength in the face of genocidal policies.
Text by Roxanne Charles
Ta ah (Amy George)
“‘Warrior Up’: those words, they’re not about being brave and going into battle. They’re about taking care of things. Taking care of the whales, and the salmon, the seal, the clams, the oysters. They’re about speaking for the living things that can’t speak for themselves.”
T’uy’t’tanat (Cease Wyss)
“Many people don't know stories like the Great Vancouver Fire of 1886 that destroyed many parts of the city and how the Skwxwú7mesh women in canoes rescued people trying to escape the flames on the shoreline at Gastown. The women just paddled through the night and saved thousands of people and yet it's not a story that is commonly known.”
“It is our women that are the caretakers first and foremost, it is our women that are the life givers first and foremost. And we are reflections of our land, so violence against our land is violence against our women. It’s not enough to take a look at the problem that we have across Indian country with our relatives disappearing and in the same breath, approving pipelines that invite that violence into our lands.”
“People can judge the tactics, what our People are doing, but we know what we’re doing is right when we say we’re standing here to protect our children’s water and for those unborn. As women we know it because we birth babies.”
Panel Discussion: Honouring Our Women
Friday, October 29, 6 – 8pm
To celebrate the installation of her mural Honouring Our Women at 312 Main, Roxanne Charles brings five local Indigenous Matriarchs — Ta'ah (Amy George), Sabina Dennis, Kanahus Manuel, Debra Sparrow, and T’uy’t’tanat (Cease Wyss) — together in conversation. Poet and activist Rita Wong moderates this Zoom webinar.
Photo: Chris Tait. Courtesy the artist.
Roxanne Charles of Semiahmoo First Nation is a cultural historian employing means of visual representation, oral history, and ceremony; methods which have been utilized by Semiahma People for thousands of years. Charles holds two undergraduate degrees from Kwantlen Polytechnic University and a Master of Fine Arts from Simon Fraser University. Her work directly responds to a troubling colonial present and documents issues that reflect her life experience such as spirituality, identity, urbanization, food security, resource extraction, trauma, and forms of systemic violence.