The Tree Museum starts from the perspective of a small section of surviving forest located in what is now the growing, sprawling, suburb of Pender Island, B.C., Canada. Through artists' projects, interviews, podcasts and publications, the Museum explores the aesthetics and politics of multiplicitous settler relationships to forests and animal lives. It asks the question of how the widespread and accelerated annihilation of animals and forests have become normalized and entwined with acts of British, now Canadian, colonial land appropriation, suburbanization, identity and desire.
The Museum is virtual in location but based on the unceded territory of the WSÁNEĆ First Nation Peoples. In a debt of gratitude, it seeks to 'think through' the implications of WSÁNEĆ descriptions of ancestral kinship relations with trees, islands and other beings, in the examination of the roots and branches of settler-colonial suburban habits and practices and imaginaries of place. In acknowledging the rights (and title) of the WSÁNEĆ People to govern their traditional territory, the Tree Museum therefore takes its cue from one of the core principles of WSÁNEĆ Law: "That the origin of the living things of this world are our ancient relatives, and that they must be treated with respect." From the perspective of the Tree Museum, this includes advocating for the well being of forests, animals and other beings as central to the obligations and responsibilities of the wider political community.
The WSÁNEĆ People are constituted of five Bands called Tsawout, Tsartlip, Tseycum, Pauquachin and Malahat First Nations. Their main village sites are located on the Saanich Peninsula, B.C., Canada, although their traditional territory extends far beyond the reserve lands and includes the Salish Sea.
The Tree Museum commemorates Nicky and the six young deer lives lost in in the first months of 2020. For approximately eight years, Nicky endured the many dangers and hardships brought on by the degradation of her island forest home. She is the Tree Museum's muse and through her gentle presence, she exposed the reality of the precariousness of her and her family's life and the impact of suburbanization on the (dubious) survival of her and other animal kind. Nicky, you sure were one smart sister. May you and your offspring rest in peace.
The idea of the Tree Museum would not have been possible without the many and varied conversations and art projects that inform its inquiry. A very special thanks to Rob YELḰÁTŦE Clifford and his UBC and UVIC Law students, who I was fortunate to join, on ĆELÁṈENEȽ: A Field Course in the Re-emergence of W̱SÁNEĆ Law, 2021; Street Road Artists' Space and an ongoing art and research project called Clouded Title developed in collaboration with Emily Artinian, artist and founder of Street Road; Citizen Artist News: Clouded Title, an art intervention developed in dialogue with Earl Claxton Jr. (Elder, Tsawout First Nation); The Aesthetics of Trees, Fish and Deer, an art-research project in collaboration with the artist Doug LaFortune and his wife Kathy (Tsawout First Nation), funded by the Canada Council for the Arts. Special thanks to Earl Claxton Jr., Seliliya (Belinda) Claxton (Tsawout First Nation) and settlers Debra Auchterlonie and Denise Holland who particpated in workshops on Pender Island and Goldstream National Park; Citizen Artist News: Kinship, an art intervention in the form of a newspaper developed in collaboration with Doug and Kathy LaFortune. Special thanks to Robert Clifford, Mavis Underwood (Elected Member of Tsawout Band Council), Earl Claxton Jr. and Denise Holland (co-editor); Paddle For LEL¸TOS, a short educational film produced for the 2018 paddle-rally in support of Tsawout First Nation’s request to the Provincial government for the return of reserve lands, produced by Karin Kunzo, Adiba Muzaffar, F.D. Plessner, in dialogue with Mavis Underwood, Aaron Sam, Willard Pelkey, Robert Clifford, May and Skip Sam, Earl Claxton Jr., Belinda Claxton, Grace Blackwood; Shumka Centre, Art Apprenticeship Scheme: thank you to the Shumka Centre for sponsoring Itamar Sitbon to facilitate the realization of the Tree Museum in all its digital and online forms.