“Hay'sxw'qa Si'em : Past/Present/Future” is a floating map on the inner harbour, situating us in space as well as in time. Two streams of water represent the two traditional names of this area: Lewkungen and Songish (often spelled “Songhees”) territory. The name Lekwungen has existed since before contact and means “place to smoke herring people”, signifying the great cultural importance of red herring. After contact this area developed the name Songish which means “to gather”, marking this place as a gathering spot for various Indigenous communities and settlers. Today, the anglezied spelling “Songhees” has become more commonly used, but “Songish” more accurately reflects the correct pronunciation.
Three boats represent the past, present, and future of this area. The middle boat, the present, situates us in the middle of ongoing colonization since European contact. Two traditional longboats mark the past and future, signifying both the long-held roots of the Lekwungen/Songish people in this area and their ongoing, ever-evolving presence.
This installation stemmed from a desire to further connect with the ritual of territory acknowledgement. Territory acknowledgement can take many forms, from using Indigenous place names to discussing the ongoing systemic violence that has been part of our history. It can be a way to preserve culture and to invoke greater contextual awareness and respect. Conversely, territory acknowledgement can be an empty symbolic gesture that hegemonically incorporates the aesthetic of decolonization without substantive action, thereby disrupting anti-colonial struggle. Hay'sxw'qa means thank you in Lekwungen. Si'em translates to highly respected or noble ones; in this context it means utmost gratitude to those we live, work and play with. Through dialogue with Lekwungen artist Bradley Yuxwelupton Dick, “Hay'sxw'qa Si'em : Past/Present/Future” was developed as a territory acknowledgement that celebrates the evolving and resilient nature of Lekwungen/Songish identity.
Thank you to the City of Victoria and the CRD for their support on this project.