Meredith Diane Mantooth
Master of Arts in Anthropology (MA) 
Reconstructing ‘Disrupted Lives’: The Canadian Exhibition of Children’s Art from Refugee Camps
Edmonton Heritage Council
Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.
The full abstract for this thesis is available in the body of the thesis, and will be available when the embargo expires.
Photography has a rich and complex past and present among the shíshálh Coast Salish, a self-governing Indigenous Nation on British Columbia’s southern Northwest Coast. This dissertation explores the multiple ways in which photography intersects with contemporary shíshálh (pronounced sheesh-ath) lives. I argue that, far from being an imposed colonial technology, photography is localized in unique, transformative ways. Drawing on James L. Hevia’s (2009) notion of the “photography complex,” I examine the key ways through which photography is culturally active and activated. This begins with locating photography within the complex that is “family” in shíshálh territory. I then move to a discussion of the relationship between photography and cultural memory—as both oral history-telling and public performance. Next, I consider how photographs operate as contact zones between shíshálh peoples and others. Finally, I explore the ways through which photographs are transformed by, in particular, digital preservation and its relationship to more analogue, familial forms of photographic sociality.
This dissertation examines everyday social relations in the settler colonial city of Vancouver. Its contemporary ethnographic focus updates and reworks historical and political analyses that currently comprise the growing body of scholarship on settler colonialism as a distinct socio-political phenomenon. I investigate how non-Aboriginal residents construct and relate to Aboriginal alterity. The study is situated in three ethnographic sites, united by their emphasis on “including” the Aboriginal Other: (1) the 2010 Winter Olympics, which featured high-profile forms of Aboriginal participation (and protest); (2) the Mount Pleasant public library branch, which displays a prominent Aboriginal collection and whose staff works closely with the urban Aboriginal community; and (3) BladeRunners, an inner-city construction program that trains and places Aboriginal street youth in the local construction industry. Participants in this research include non-Aboriginal “inclusion workers” as well as non-Aboriginal patrons at the library, construction workers on a BladeRunners construction placement site, and audiences at Aboriginal Olympic events. I explore how my participants’ affective knowledges shape and are shaped by spatial and racializing processes in the emergent settler colonial present. My analysis reveals how everyday encounters with Aboriginal alterity are produced and experienced through spectacular representations and spectral (or haunting) Aboriginal presence, absence, and possibility in the city. In relation to inclusion initiatives, I argue that discourses of Aboriginal inclusion work to manage and circumscribe Aboriginal difference even as they enable interaction across difference. Ultimately, I suggest that social projects aimed at addressing Aboriginal marginality and recognition must actively engage with and critique non-Aboriginal ideologies, discourses, and practices around racialization, meaning-making, and settler privilege, while working within and against a spectacular and spectralized milieu. This research demonstrates how critical ethnography can be leveraged productively to analyse settler participation in the reproduction and transformation of the colonial project.
In the Pacific Northwest, Aboriginal designs adorn private spaces and public places, as well as clothing worn and objects owned by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples alike. In addition to Northwest Coast art being increasingly treated as a form of fine art, Northwest Coast designs are now also being mechanically reproduced on many decorative and utilitarian objects, such as mugs, tote bags, T-shirts, and fridge magnets. Since the early 20th century, scholars, educators, artists, entrepreneurs, and government officials have been putting forward the idea that this market could, and indeed should, be developed to the benefit of Aboriginal individuals and communities, in addition to being used to strengthen Canada’s national identity and industry. Over the decades, the art and artware market’s expansions have also continuously raised questions about the effects and ethics of cultural commodification, in particular with respect to the often unequal distribution of risks and benefits among the market’s stakeholders. This dissertation examines how Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal individuals who are currently participating in the Native Northwest Coast artware industry of Vancouver (BC) view this market’s present configuration and envision its future. It argues that the artware industry is being progressively shaped into a form of Culturally Modified Capitalism in relation to enduring concerns about levels of Aboriginal involvement, different conceptions of authenticity and collaboration, as well as tensions between democratization and exclusion, deterritorialization and localization, individual and collective interests, and development and sustainability. As in any capitalism system, the resulting commodityscapes rely on the extraction of wealth from natural and cultural resources; however, Culturally Modified Capitalism is also an economic model built upon the premise that capitalist systems of production, distribution, and consumption may be harnessed to sustain Aboriginal ways of life, on the crucially important condition that Aboriginal stakeholders are able to bring their worldviews, values, and interests to bear on the market’s configuration. In the Native Northwest Coast artware industry, this translates into the expectation that companies not only sell goods, but also “do good” while “making their name good” by engaging in practices of redistribution reflecting the system of generalized reciprocity that characterizes the potlatch economy.
Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.
The Sasquatch Museum in Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia, is a one-room galleryestablished in 2017 within the Tourism Harrison Greeting Centre. Though compact, the gallerymakes full use of the space – the walls and ceiling are painted to mimic the forest surroundingHarrison Hot Springs, and there are three notable sections of display. The first, and largest, is thecollection of material related to bigfoot hunting in BC, including eyewitness testimonials andcasts of footprints. Beside this display are two smaller cases. The first case relates to the Sts'ailes(Chehalis) First Nation’s ancestral being Sa:sq’ets (Sasquatch), and includes a Sa:sq’ets maskrepatriated from the Museum of Vancouver (MOV) in 2014. The final case of the museum isdedicated to primatological evidence for the existence of a bigfoot-like creature.In this thesis I answer the question: how does the Harrison Hot Springs SasquatchMuseum make use of Indigenous knowledge and imagery, western scientific data, and pop culturenarratives in a highly stylized gallery atmosphere to further their particular perspective onbigfoot/Sasquatch? I will use the themes of atmosphere and folkloric narratives to develop acritical interpretation of this gallery space. This is, in part, a history and analysis of thedevelopment of the museum, sourced from interviews with Robert Reyerse (executive director ofTourism Harrison). It is also an interpretive analysis of the exhibits, as they stand today, based onmy own visits. I examine how the museum displays pop cultural bigfoot narratives and Sts’ailesSa:sq’ets ancestral knowledge, including how both interpretations come together.
This ethnography investigates how Nuxalk carpenters (artists) and cultural specialistsdiscursively connect themselves to cultural treasures and historic makers through attributions andstaked cultural knowledge. A recent wave of information in the form of digital images ofancestral objects, long-absent from the community, has enabled Nuxalk members to developconnoisseurial skills to reinterpret, reengage, and re-indigenize those objects while constructingcultural continuity and mobilizing symbolic capital in their community, the art market, andbetween each other. The methodologies described in this ethnography and deployed by Nuxalkpeople draw from both traditional knowledge and formal analysis, problematizing the presumedbinary division between these epistemologies in First Nations art scholarship and texts. Bydeveloping competencies with objects though exposure and familiarity, Nuxalk carpenters andcultural specialists are driving a spiritual and artistic resurgence within their community. Oneexample of a traditional knowledge being returned to the Nuxalk is the “carpenter’s mark,” acrease on the palms of some carpenters connecting them to supernatural events and prominentancestors who shared this rare physical feature. Through case studies and interviews, this thesisdemonstrates that 1) Nuxalk carpenters and community members build and mobilizerelationships to ancestral carpenters and iconic objects as cultural and symbolic capital, 2)Nuxalk carpenters have indigenized aspects of formal art analysis in their engagements withobjects and images of objects in developing connoisseurial skills that draw coequally fromtraditional ways of knowing and formalism and 3) the carpenter’s mark, a single transversepalmar crease, serves as a physical connection between historic and contemporary carpenters andis a vehicle for both continuity and symbolic capital.
Museum staff have recently embraced digital technologies as an avenue for providing sustainable access to the cultural heritage of First Nations and descendent communities. While museums, universities and partnering institutions are increasingly collaborating on digital initiatives with Indigenous communities, the resulting projects necessarily involve compromise between parties working with often different goals, publics, and epistemologies. Understanding and evaluating the meaning, value, and success of projects that Indigenous peoples control at all levels is essential to improving future collaborative projects involving First Nations material culture, and to prioritizing Indigneous perspectives at all levels of museum work. In this thesis I examine the process of creating a digitized ethnographic database of museum objects, led by the Ancestral Governance Office of the Nuxalk First Nation in Bella Coola, British Columbia. This Nuxalk-directed database shows how vital Nuxalk culture heritage is to their land and sovereignty, and highlights the importance of the process of creating this database over the final digital product. It 1) challenges assumptions around the invisibility of certain value systems within museum collections databases, 2) emphasizes the future wellbeing of the next generation of Nuxalk people as an important motivation for this work, and 3) calls for more support for Indigenous-controlled projects like this one from the government and institutions caring for Indigenous heritage.
This analysis of the performance and installation project Vancouver, Crawling, Weeping, Betting (2014) is a case study of improvisation and creativity in environmentally engaged relational art. I argue for the politically transformative possibility inherent in the unfolding of material-semiotic and affective relations of improvised performance events. VCWB uses stories and bodies to engage historical colonial power and the structures that give form to our experiences of urban cultural geographies. Focusing on the centrality of the body to creativity (and drawing on Manning 2009), I connect participatory performance in the city to the Deleuzian notion of a body-becoming; a sensing, moving, and thinking body that is always in a process of re-identification and re-articulation in reciprocal relation with the environment. Central to VCWB’s form of improvisatory relational art are concepts of generosity and co-responsibility, which are used to create caring reciprocal relations between performer-participants and the environment. I argue VCWB prompts and sustains a relation of antagonism (following Bishop 2004) in its experimental performances. A multiplicity of historical affective associations and encounters with landscape, presented in narrative and other works, challenge participants to confront difference, dislocation, and uncertainty, producing movement and ‘dialogue.’ I use the term spaces of possibility to describe relations in which frictions become creative taking-off points for movement and thought. VCWB street performances highlight the antagonism and possibility that is inevitable to unpredictable encounter in a lively world. VCWB’s particular form of art making is processual, generative, and its affects proliferative. In using the example of VCWB’s non-representational mapmaking I expand the scope of improvised performance in the city to consider how gatherings in moments recompose places in novel material-semiotic and affective relations.
Scholars often frame cultural tourism in terms of a host/guest relationship between communities and the tourists who visit them. In this thesis, I explore the relevance of the host/guest framework when discussing tourism at Xat’sull Heritage Village (XHV), a small community-based cultural tourism site located in the interior Cariboo region of British Columbia and managed by the Xat’sull First Nation. Throughout, I work to complicate the host/guest dynamic, arguing that a nuanced understanding of tourism at XHV requires acknowledging the role of the land, and in particular the site of XHV itself, as agentive. Ultimately, this thesis examines the notion of Xat’sull Heritage Village as a site where connections between people are made, but also as a site that is in itself inherently powerful and connected to the people who inhabit it. I argue that acknowledging human connections to the land in a tourism setting can be a powerful act, facilitating cross-cultural understandings and helping to correct the damage done by the centuries of colonial violence and oppression First Nations communities have endured.