Shawn Brigman Ph.D. is an enrolled member of the Spokane Tribe of Indians and descendant of northern Plateau bands (snʕáyckst – sinixt, sənpʕʷilx – san poil, and tk’emlúps te secwepemc – shuswap). As a traditional artisan for 15 consecutive years, his creative practice has been one of project based ancestral recovery efforts in Washington, Idaho, British Columbia, and Montana, exploring and transforming the way people read Plateau architectural space by celebrating the physical revival of ancestral Plateau art and architectural heritage.
This involves working with communities to connect to sources of Indigenous knowledge, often taking participant learners out to ancestral lands to gather a diverse range of natural materiality for ancestral structures like tule mat lodges, pit houses, and bark sturgeon-nose canoes. In addition, Brigman developed an original contemporary canoe interpretation in 2013 with a unique frame assemblage and fabric skin attachment method now widely known across the Plateau region as a Salishan Sturgeon Nose Canoe, and he often gives presentations on this sculptural form. During the 2016 Prayer Journey to Standing Rock, North Dakota, four of his Salishan Sturgeon Nose Canoes successfully delivered water protectors who brushed the water of the Missouri River to the Cannonball River with gathered canoes from the Pacific Northwest.
Bark sturgeon-nose canoe shapes, construction techniques, and other characteristics are generated from centuries old local patterns. Although there is diversity within the styles of northern Plateau bark-sturgeon nose canoes, the principles of construction are the same and often the styles overlap with only subtle differences. Brigmans artistic goal is to increase awareness and opportunities for Plateau canoe making artisans to teach, preserve, present, and protect the integrity of ancestral “bark sturgeon-nose canoes” and his contemporary line of “Salishan Sturgeon Nose Canoes” from cultural appropriation.
I have been fortunate to perform and share my experiences in the “Salishan Sturgeon Nose Canoe” by Dr. Shawn Brigman at the International Nelson Mural Festival
Without the Salishan Sturgeon Nose Canoe, I as colonized contemporary woman have no lived experience in the framework of a sturgeon nose canoe. It is one thing to assume we know what it is to be an indigenous woman but without our architecture or “built environments” as Brigman says, as colonized women we are that – an english label as representation of Sqilxw. Looking beyond Indigenous and focusing on specifically what makes Sqilxw thought “sqilxw” I explore the notion of ‘belonging’ to these implements rather than owning them as property.
The Salishan Sturgeon Nose canoe came as a research vessel to inform Northern Sqilxw of our connection to place in Secewepemc, Syilx, Sinixt territories as reflected in the genealogy of myself and other OKIB band members. To wake up our memories of our deep connections to bark canoes. With the exception of few old ethographies, the use of bark canoes has all been lost to my community. Instead we inherited generations of loggers – my family included.
For me, this anthropomorphic canoe falls into a theme of captikwl – animal story driven experiences that can be used as tools to transmit beliefs and values through storytelling. How do we introduce a Salishan Sturgeon Nose Canoe to new waters? This question has presented itself to me as being metaphors for visitor protocol. It is from these beginnings that Shawn’s recovery practice has enabled new thought processes to occur to be observed through an Indigenous performance theory lens, to experience dimensional awareness and feel a time warp between the then and now.
– Mariel Belanger
Sqilxw Woman, not canoe specialist – canoe performance artist