Copper Handles

On to Vancouver, where I have spent several days amassing an insane amount of material on the First Nations, particularly the Inuit, Kwakwaka’wakw and Haida. Still not totally sure what I am doing with it, but I’ve already written about Native Americans a couple of times, both as part of the history of Vinland, and in my Doctor Who short story “Nonsense Songs of the MicMac Indians.” I can feel a new story beginning to form on a similar topic. It has been bubbling away for several years, but this trip has finally allowed the pieces to fall into place.

At the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology, I listened to Kwakwaka’wakw expert Jennifer Kramer talking about the politics of repatriation, and the pains taken by the museum to treat First Nations artefacts with respect. The textile drawers in the museum’s new gallery all have copper handles, because copper is a precious, sacred metal to the peoples of the North-West coast. Such a weird, hypnotic detail to the ruminating author…

Metal is so scarce in the frozen north. Nails from European ships have severely muddied the waters of scholarship when it comes to estimates about early explorers. Ripped from wrecks or traded at the periphery for furs and food, they have travelled far to the south and west, a much greater distance than the ships on which they arrived.

And the words… oh, the words. So few languages are alien enough for me these days. But here in Canada, I get to hear words like Nunavut. Nuu-cha-nulth. Kwakwaka’wakw. Nuxalk. I am lost in arcane euphonies, and loving it.

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