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On the territory of the Məθkʷəy̓, cousins Quelemia and Chrystal Sparrow share the teachings of the legend of the sʔiɬqey̓ (double-headed serpent), while having a conversation on what it means to be contemporary Musqueam artists.
[MUSIC & DIALOGUE] I just said: Do you speak in Hunq’a’min’um? Probably not. I just said, Hello everyone. Welcome. My name is Quelemia Sparrow, and I'm from Musqueam, xʷməθkʷəy̓əm. You're in, we're in a very special place right now. This place is called məθkʷəy̓əm. And this is my cousin Chrystal.
So my name is Chrystal Sparrow. And I also come from Musqueam. I am a Coast Salish artist and I was traditionally mentored by my late father, Irving Sparrow. So I'm really proud to come from the Sparrow family for fishermen and fisherwomen.
Yeah, I was gonna say fisherpeople. Yeah!
Definitely, definitely. I mean, it's it's amazing to know that we have such a long history from what I've learned from some of my uncles, and our and our great uncles in that, our great grandfather, Edward Sparrow Senior, and then our fathers parents. So the fishermen in our family come from a long line like our great grandfather, Edward Sparrows Senior, my grandfather - my grandfather, your great grandfather, so my Grandpa Ed is Chrystal's Great Grandpa Ed.
Uh-huh, right. Yes. You know, it's so interesting how there's so many Greats that can be in a family you kinda - sometimes, you forget so you're like, Okay, which which great is it, which great is it.
One? Yeah, there's one Great. Yeah. For you! Great Grandpa Ed. Yeah.
And yeah, and I'm a theatre maker, Chrystal's an amazing carver, visual artist and everything that you do, that you talk to me about experimenting with stinging nettles and weavings and carvings and for me, it's all about words and storytelling, and all my stuff is land based. So I find myself going from one place name to the next and diving into the stories and into the sχʷəy̓em̓s, we call our ancient histories and revitalizing the stories like our salmon stories that are so important to us. You know that because you're a fisher person.
A fisher woman. Yeah, so you know, my work has been going into lots of story and disseminating and figuring out myself as well too. Lots of research, lots of spending time in the archives, cross referencing stories that I've heard myself from grandpa from Grandpa Ed and Granny. Granny used to tell us stories all the time. We used to sit in the kitchen floor and just listen to Granny tell us stories. Yeah, and and I guess that was the place where I fell in love with storytelling where she brought us to this place. I just remember her telling us stories and now I've just been going around to different places like Sen̓áḵw and Papieyek and Xway Xwey and learning about the places and now this place, this is a very special place. This place is called xʷməθkʷəy̓əm. So I asked Chrystal here to xʷməθkʷəy̓əm. Chrystal and I often talk about our art together and what it means to be xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, what it means to be xʷməθkʷəy̓əm artists and so I thought what a better place to do that then in xʷməθkʷəy̓əm. But first I'm going to share the sχʷəy̓em̓ of xʷməθkʷəy̓əm because it's our sχʷəy̓em̓ our history of how we came to call ourselves the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm. There is a sχʷəy̓em̓ here and sχʷəy̓em̓ they are ancient histories that have been passed on from generation to generation. And there's a sχʷəy̓em̓ that teaches us, that passes on how we became known xʷməθkʷəy̓əm how we became known as the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm people and it started right here. With me the old people, they spoke of a small lake called xʷməθkʷəy̓əm where the s ʔ i: ɬ q ə y lived. And this s ʔ i: ɬ q ə y was a double-headed serpent and the young people were warned, like don't go near xʷm ə m ̓ qʷe:m because of this s ʔ i: ɬ q ə y, be cautious!
I wouldn't want to go anywhere near this s ʔ i: ɬ q ə y, the two-headed serpent. And so one day that s ʔ i: ɬ q ə y left xʷm ə m ̓ qʷe:m and made its way down to the sta l ə ̕ w River. And as it moved down, it made a path as it traveled. And that path was winding and everything that s ʔ i ɬ qe y passed over, it died. And from its droppings, the s ʔ i ɬ qe y droppings, bloomed, a new plant: the m ə θkʷ ə y. And this path that the s ʔ i ɬ qe y made, it became the creek flowing through xʷm ə θkʷ ə y ̓ ə m to this day. The xʷm ə θkʷ ə y ̓ ə m Creek.
Yeah. And for this reason, the people of long ago named ourselves xʷm ə θkʷ ə y ̓ ə m, the people of the m ə θ kʷ ə y. When I think about the m ə θ kʷ ə y, I think about what it means to be xʷm ə θkʷ ə y ̓ ə m. And what it means to me to be a xʷm ə θkʷ ə y ̓ ə m artist. So I'd like to ask you, Chrystal, after we've shared this sχʷ ə y ̓ e m together and with all of you, what does it mean to you to be a xʷm ə θkʷ ə y ̓ ə m? And what does it mean to you to be a xʷm ə θkʷ ə y ̓ ə m artist?
I think at this time in my life, it's a really important way to think and be. And I really feel like it's familiar. It's from our, it's from our grandmothers, it's from our great grandmother's, it's from these ancestral people coming through the land coming through knowledge, that is living in the land. And it's such a - when I say it's such a way of living, and it's an important way of, you know, understanding that there is knowledge there. And it's not easy to explain because it presents itself to you. And I think it only presents itself to you, if you're from land. If you're from that place, it finds you and it finds you because you're open to knowledge, you're open to learning. I discovered I love learning. It's something that I'm working towards understanding more about and the land just really started to come to me. And I started to understand that I needed to listen to what my hands and what my body was saying. And it was I need to look at stinging nettle, I needed to look at the importance of weaving plant fibers, I needed to look at going into our forests and thinking about medicines. I needed to find people that have those teachings, so that I could then carry those teachings. I didn't understand at the time, but I started to think about colors. I started to think about pigments and wondering what that where that came from, and what colors they were, I mean, I felt had a real strong sense they were Earth colors. I came across this article there's these two university students at UBC, who wanted to recreate this red paint that First Nations had us on these wood boxes along the west coast. And it just so happened that that article came up when I was looking at natural pigmentations in Vancouver, also in Canada, where I can find out more information. So happens these two young men were just, you know, trying different techniques. And they had asked Bill McLennan, I believe, I might have said his name, his last name wrong. He had shared with these two young men that they should try using saliva. And the reason for saliva, because it's a natural binder. Apparently, these young men were using salmon roe eggs as a way to create this red color, this red paint. So they did go ahead and they used saliva, they found out the only way to get this red, paint color or this artist pigment color was to use fresh salmon roe, chew it in their mouths with their saliva as binder and then quickly painted on to a wood box onto preferably a cedar wood box. And they discovered it was the same red pigment color. And I just thought, I can't believe it came across this but it felt familiar. Again, I go back to that familiar that this is something I needed to know this is something I need to try because it's a part of my culture. And I think the great thing about learning is that you share this with people as a way of passing on the knowledge so I don't want to then just do this and keep it for myself. I understand this came to me because I'm a knowledge keeper. I'm a knowledge seeker and I have already knowledge in me, but it's also coming to me because I need to pass this on as well.
Yeah, you're a knowledge sharer.
Now, I'm a knowledge sharer! hay čxʷ q̓ə
That was so beautiful. Thank you for sharing with me what it means to you to be xʷm ə m ̓ qʷe:m From the bottom of my heart, hay čxʷ q̓ə Chrystal. I'd like to acknowledge Christie Lee Charles, the composer and creator of the beautiful music that you've been hearing during this audio play. Christie Lee Charles is from the xʷm ə m ̓ qʷe:m nation as well.
Quelemia Sparrow with Chrystal Sparrow, writing and performance
Mary Jane Coomber, sound design
Christie Lee Charles, music writing and performance
SAVAGE SOCIETY (Vancouver)
Darylina Powderface, community engagement coordinator
Cameron Peal, production coordination
Sherri Sadler, marketing & communications
Chelsea Carlson, production management
Safoura Rigi-Ladiz, copywriting and videography
Heather Cant, consulting (Indigenous Cities)