Exhibit at KPU library showcases contemporary apparel for National Indigenous History Month

Present Traditions will be displayed until June 30

Rachel Chong, Indigenous Engagement and Subject Liaison Librarian at KPU. (Flickr/KPU)

Rachel Chong, Indigenous Engagement and Subject Liaison Librarian at KPU. (Flickr/KPU)

Ribbon skirts, earrings made with a shimmery acrylic, and traditional footwear are just some of the items displayed in the new Indigenous collection at Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Surrey campus library. 

Present Traditions is the first specialist exhibit at KPU to celebrate National Indigenous History Month, with items in the collection including clothing primarily from British Columbia like shirts. 

The exhibit is also in KPU’s Surrey campus library resource space χʷəχʷéy̓əm, which means “oral storytelling” in hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, the Downriver dialect of the broader language Halkomelem. The resource space has Indigenous books, art and fabric mostly from B.C. with items displayed on circular shelving. 

Rachel Chong, Indigenous engagement and subject liaison librarian at KPU and a member of the Métis Nation, developed the collection and resource space to make Indigenous cultures more central and accessible. 

“It’s really helpful during a time of truth and reconciliation to have spaces where faculty and students can go to find resources that are authentic, and that speak to Indigenous experiences,” Chong says. 

“So many of the pieces in the collection are memoir style, autobiographical, or Indigenous Peoples speaking their truths and their stories.” 

The exhibit is called Present Traditions to demonstrate the idea of their ancestors gifting traditional techniques and using them today in unique ways with modern interpretations. For example, Chong says one of the earrings displayed in the collection is made with traditional ovoid patterns that are commonly associated with Coast Salish style art, but are made with a newer material used today called acrylic. 

“Material that we might not have had access to historically, but the concept of it, that pattern and design is very traditional,” she says. “It’s really nice to see this juxtaposition of the traditional methods with modern interpretations of it.” 

The name χʷəχʷéy̓əm was gifted by sesmélət, Fern Gabriel, a hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language teacher of the Kwantlen First Nation in Fort Langley. The library plans to use the space for oral events and to make oral storytelling recordings available through QR codes on the shelves, according to a KPU press release

A selection of short recordings are available on the KPU website already, including the pronunciation of χʷəχʷéy̓əm. 

Circular shelving was chosen for the resource space because a lot of Indigenous teachings are embedded in a circle and for students to experience circle learning so they can talk, learn, and share the space. 

Chong says in circle learning there’s no position of privilege or hierarchy and that we’re all equally positioned in the circle. 

To add to χʷəχʷéy̓əm, Wilson School of Design graduate and a member of the Métis Nation Jennifer Lamont has upholstery designs of powwow dancers featured on the chairs to embody the celebration. The designs are fitted patting made out of various materials that cover armed chairs or sofas. 

Out of all the items in the Present Traditions exhibit, she says the beadwork stands out to her the most not only because she is a beading artist herself, but because there are many ways to bead and engage with the art. 

“It’s just so beautiful to see different styles, colour techniques, and design options,” she says. “There’s such a diversity of ways to bead and engage with beadwork.” 

Before launching Present Traditions, the collection was actually a secret dream come true for Chong since being at KPU. Once the library got the project approved and received the funding, the collection took six months to put together, which is a quick turnaround time, she says. 

Chong hopes that when people look at the display, they’re impressed with the variety of items in the collection and how people can engage in Indigenous arts and cultures. 

“And also I hope that when people see the variety of things that are coming out of Indigenous communities that they feel inspired, and they realize that Indigenous cultures are alive and thriving today,” Chong says. “It’s a really wonderful thing to celebrate.” 

Later this year, she is hoping to display more exhibits in the future, including an exhibit for National Truth and Reconciliation Day in September.