Recording Their Story: James Teit and the Tahltan

Ever since information has become readily available online, the source of our knowledge has expanded beyond the walls of libraries and museums. This new way of disseminating and receiving information has caused quite a stir in institutions, causing them to reexamine their practice in organizing and displaying knowledge as educators for communities. In our current exhibition, Victoria-based visual and performance artist Peter Morin establishes his own museum that explores the conventions of museum practices while sharing the knowledge of the Tahltan First Nation through a series of performances and an evolving installation.

Among the many artifacts in Morin’s museum, a reading area is created to hold several publications about Tahltan ethnography. A book called Recording Their Story: James Teit and the Tahltan by Judy Thompson is placed on a wooden table across a talking basket. The book describes James Teit’s journey in becoming one of Canada’s first ethnographers who conducted extensive fieldwork on the Tahltan people in the upper Stikine River region. The cultural information Teit collected on separate occasions for the Canadian Museum of Civilization (CMC) from 1911 to 1920 has greatly influenced later anthropological studies of the Tahltan people. Author Judy Thompson retraces Teit’s steps by taking the readers to his birthplace in Shetland Islands and to his second home in British Columbia. The book is filled with images of Tahltan artifacts, Teit’s field notes, and photographs of the Tahltan people. A detail drawing on a study of snowshoes in Teit’s notebook, for example, demonstrates his attention to detail and interest in the subject matter. Among the many portraits that Teit took, Morin’s great-grand mother, Ida Quok, can also be found in the book.

All in all, Recording Their Story is a biography and a catalogue that depicts the life of an ethnographer who became part of an artist’s work a century later. The knowledge recorded by Teit not only serves as an educational tool but also as a thread that connects him with Morin across space and time.

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As part of the exhibition’s mission to share knowledge, a book about the installation will be given out for free to each guest who attends the second performance of Peter Morin’s Museum on May 29th. The book is a collaboration between artist Peter Morin, MOA curator Karen Duffek, and Satellite Gallery’s design intern Marcela Huerta. Please stay tune for our next post about the making of this wonderful book.

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