In Perspective
The Chilcotin War: A Colonial Legacy Interpretive Essay
by Amberley John

It is customary to acknowledge the Nations when you are in their territory.
We are currently on unceded syilx land.

Ann Nicholson’s exhibition The Chilcotin War: A Colonial Legacy reinforced the importance of place. We viewers were brought to Chilcotin Country, a plateau and mountain region around Williams Lake, BC. Traditionally inhabited by the Tsilhqot’in Peoples, white colonists and road construction workers laid claim to the land. This aggression led to the Chilcotin War of 1864.

When non-Indigenous artists engage in Indigenous issues in their work, there is always the concern of cultural appropriation. It is the responsibility of the artist to consult with that nation, and be transparent and truthful in their work. Nicholson seems to have approached this subject matter with tact and respect.

Imagery in these paintings asks us to remember the events leading up to the Chilcotin War, and how they contribute to our current unresolved issues. Eyes stare back at you as you witness their truth. Arrows point in one direction in some paintings; in others they create chaos.

Many of the paintings feature a lower tier of Tsilhqot’in associations. This tier becomes increasingly suffocated, growing slimmer as the series progresses. In The Curse (the second to last paintingnext to Chief Ahan’s Grave) we see the chief calling out for his relatives to find him as plans currently progress to build a school on his remains in New Westminster. The Tsilhqot’in Peoples unequivocally have the right to the repatriation of Chief Ahan’s remains.

Winding intersecting paths in Roads to the Gold remind us of the difficult truth about hunger and greed. This hunger for gold and hunger for progress still exist. At the time of the Chilcotin War, the elders said that the 7th generation would have to withstand another onslaught from the white occupiers.

In June, 2014, plans to build a gold and copper mine at Fish Lake and convert many of its surrounding lakes into tailing ponds were brought to a triumphant halt. The Tsilhqot’in Nation was victorious in gaining Aboriginal Title to a 1900 km2 section of territory. This landmark victory halted what would have been the second largest mine in Canada.

Was this the onslaught the elders predicted? “Progress” like the Prosperity Gold and Copper Mines still today threatens the traditional ways of living of the Tsilhqot’in and many other Peoples. Looking back at the six generations before us, how do we embody what we have learned, and how can we use this knowledge to benefit the next seven generations?

she:koli swakwé;ku, kaniyew^na niyúkyats tahnon: ohkwali niwaki’taló:t^ tahnon on^yota’aka niwaku’hutsyot^ ni i. ki-low-na taknakehle.

In Perspective The Chilcotin War: A Colonial Legacy Interpretive Essay Chilcotin Interpretive Essay (PDF)

Interested in exhibiting in the Alternator’s Main Gallery? Check out the Submission Guidelines.


  • Ann Nicholson: The Chilcotin War, September 18 - October 31, 2015