A popular downtown store display is being used to send a powerful message about Indigenous history this month.
Beautiful carvings, a colourful mask, and exquisitely patterned regalia adorned with splashes of red and orange make a statement about cultural pride.
On the other hand, empty children’s shoes make a poignant statement about the children who never returned home from Canada’s residential school system.
These are observations messages one can make while looking at the stage-like front of Pearl’s Value & Vintage Store.
Charlene Williams of the Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) said that she was approached by Valerie Nagy, the assistant manager of Pearl’s, to make the store’s June display.
“They had been receiving some really amazing pieces, First Nations art pieces, and [Nagy] had in mind that she wanted to do a display to honour Indigenous Peoples History Month,” said Williams.
“We went to look at the pieces and decide which ones were authentic and which ones were appropriate.”
From then on, Williams started learning a new skill.
She said that Nagy taught her the basics of making a shop display. Then the pair decided they wanted to raise awareness about some key issues.
“We wanted to create a bit of a conversation around residential school victims, and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women,” Nagy said.
A big part of the process was examining each piece of art that had been donated to the store.
For that, the pair enlisted the expertise of local Indigenous artist Larry Joseph. By looking at the style of many of the pieces, he was able to identify a number of them as being of Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw origin.
Joseph was able to trace back who had made the carvings. In a number of cases, these were vintage pieces made by artists who have since died.
“Most of the carvings are from local carvers,” said Nagy. “A lot of the names we recognized, or, you know, we know some of their relatives. So we were able to reach out and actually reunite some of the families with some of the older carvings, which was really quite cool.”
In such cases, the group decided it would be a respectful act to return them to those artists’ families, and, to balance Pearl’s inventory, Joseph traded in one of his carvings for each one that he returned to a family.
“It’s just been a really positive experience,” said Nagy. “To be able to get the blessings and return some of these things, because we don’t know how they came to Pearl’s.”
Williams echoed the sentiment.
“For me, that was a really beautiful thing for him to do,” she said. “He wanted to make sure that those families got their carvings back, but he also wanted to contribute to the cause.”
Joseph’s carvings are being auctioned by the store. The proceeds are being used to help Indigenous women in remote northern communities. Williams applauded the approach of Pearl’s.
“[It] was really respectful,” she said. “Just reaching out to the community for gifting pieces back… [and] includ[ing] Indigenous voices and guidance in that work. Like, for me, it’s the biggest lesson to be learned. This is a way of reconciliation.”