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Documentary about Musqueam Nation hits local theatre

'C̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city' tells story of Indigenous history

A screenshot from the documentary 'C̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city.' Photo submitted by Vancouver International Film Centre

Reported by Trevor Nault

Vancouver’s Musqueam Nation nearly having one of their important ancestral sites turned into condos is being showcased in a documentary from Dec. 1-3.

c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city commemorates five years since the Musqueam Nation successfully halted construction of a 108-unit condo project on the site on an ancestral village in their traditional territory. The film is a partnership between the Musqueam Indian Band, the Museum of Anthropology, and the Museum of Vancouver. The site is known to the Musqueam Nation as c̓əsnaʔəm, but is more commonly known as Marpole Midden, and is located at the corner of Cartier Street and West 73rd Avenue.

A need for accurately told stories

Viviane Gosselin, director of collections and exhibitions at the Museum of Vancouver, said the popularity of the exhibition and the film speaks to a growing demand for authentic Indigenous narratives.

“I think people have this real thirst and appetite to learn from…the Musqueam people,” Gosselin said. “Having indigenous people driving the interpretive process for the exhibition is key.”

Rose Stiffarm, a cinematographer and friend of the film director, suspects the culture of reconciliation could have something to do with the film’s popularity.

“There’s certainly a craving to know more about First Nations history, because it wasn’t taught in school,” Stiffarm said. “I think there’s a lot of people who are thinking about reconciliation, and perhaps for them coming out to support Indigenous stories at the cinema is an act of reconciliation for some people.”

Angel Ine, who is Māori, said her interest in the film was sparked by a visit to the Museum of Vancouver’s exhibition last year. Visiting from Aotearoa, New Zealand, she said it was the kind of history she was seeking to learn about as a newcomer to this part of the world.

“I try to just keep actively trying to learn what I can about the worldview, narratives and language of traditional guardians of the land I live on,” Ine said.

c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city will be showing at Vancity Theatre.

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