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The Paradise Syndrome

"They make magic lines on the land that only they can see." - A Hupacasath man's response to early colonial surveyors demarcating the boundaries of his reserve. 


I inherited a set of spiral bound navigation books from my grandfather, which are often used by mariners to plot their course of travel on the water. My grandfather didn’t have much use for them, mind you. He knew the waters of the inside passage like the back of his hand. I would occasionally break them out as I sat beside him in the wheelhouse of the W#7, his commercial seine boat, plotting my finger along the illustrated shoreline as we travelled the coast. 


Digitally scanning these charts flooded me with a wave of nostalgia. I could see the beaches I once combed; the bays and sheltered inlets we once anchored. Scanning in the chart pages in quarters, and at high-resolution, allowed me to see interesting details barely visible to me before: the demarcations of the reserves “given” to the Indigenous people. 


The Paradise Syndrome is a series of scanned marine navigation charts and geographic maps that looks at the invisible boundaries that are used to define, yet are meant to separate, us. The series takes it’s name from an episode of Star Trek, where Kirk and the crew happen upon a planet inhabited by the descendants of displaced Native Americans. The removal of the fictional Native Americans in Star Trek was done in order to, perhaps in speculation, protect them from the inevitable colonial onslaught that was to come. Or perhaps it was to ease a sense of white guilt faced by 1960’s writers through the use of tropes and stereotypes. 


In drawing a connection to other-worldly visitors and their descendants, Canadians don't like to think of their colonial past and how this country came to be. In stark contrast to the aliens in Star Trek, the early colonial government took land, water and resources that weren't theirs: giving it to the settlers after  forcibly moving or confined indigenous peoples to a fraction of their ancestral territory. This segregation was not only meant to divide individual nations, but families within them as well.


Pre-contact, the Liǥwildaʼx̱w, the Kwakwaka’wakw and the other Pacific coastal First Nations once had full reign over their respective territories. As I looked over these charts, reliving my childhood on the water, I couldn't help but think of what the government had left us and what harm that has done. Scanning the vast land and water base, I saw the origin place of the Ligwiłda’xw and was able to trace our move south. I saw where the Ligwiłda’xw, once gathered food. Where the Ligwiłda’xw gathered in times of war, and in times of ceremony, with their neighbours. The coastal First Peoples once had vast networks of trade, communication and kinship. In the end, the wave of colonialism relined indigenous nations to the confines of imposed boundaries, only visible and enforceable by settlers with magic eyes.