In order to refigure our presences, Nxumalo (2019) posits that we must politicalize our relationships with places. In regard to the art piece, I had passed by it many times before and not built a connection or stopped to engage with the piece and notice the missing stories of the land in relation to Indigenous people.
As a colonial settler, this makes me think about how colonialism legitimizes one perspective or a single story. Even if settlers choose to disregard these conversations, we are still profoundly entangled in colonization by living in these unceded traditional lands (Nxumalo 2019).
Our own identity is constructed from our experiences and backgrounds that influence our perspectives. My grandad was born and raised in Australia. Working in business allowed him to travel and work in Sri Lanka where he met my grandma. Both my other grandparents lived in Sri Lanka. My parents met in Sri Lanka and moved to Australia. I was born there and moved to the traditional and unceded lands of the Katzie, Tsawwassen, Kwantlen, Sto:lo, and Coast Salish first nations, known as Surrey, BC. Growing up in Canada with brown skin, a common assumption was that I am from India. Kirk & Okazawa-Rey (2013) contend that assumptions are made about place of origin purely based on looks and this compares and categorizes individuals.
My connection to this piece comes from images that illustrate humans interacting with nature by unplugging and engaging in activities such as hiking and canoeing that are valued by my family. Growing up in a technological era, my family valued the importance of interacting with nature.
In the process of composing my collage in conversation with the art, I gravitated to engage with the land as more than “a mass we live upon” and to highlight the importance of the surroundings (Pettersen, 2016, p. 6). I also wanted to illuminate how weather interacts with the art piece and has the ability to change our perceptions.
To bring to attention the underemphasized narrative from the public art piece, I highlighted the elements of nature in contrast with images of development such as the railway, and cars. I was inspired by Kaminski’s (2013) contention that First Nations connect the earth and the natural world to be a mother figure, and therefore “the rightful stance to take upon her is a respectful, interconnected one of stewardship and gratitude” (p.1).
I also chose to highlight the mountains that were shown in the original art piece by labeling them by their original Squamish name – Ch’ich’iyúy Elxwíkn’ (Two Sisters). They were renamed the Lions by British settlers. This symbolizes the recognition of history by the people that know this place well.
In consonance with the article “Place and Identity for Children in Classrooms and Schools,” the place where this art piece stands is not just geographical (Ellis, 2005). As I used to pass it on my way to work, I did not even notice it. Postcards of the Past are a reminder of my connections with the logic of colonization that continues to oppress Indigenous peoples.
As I engage with Postcards of the Past, I reckon that the minimal acknowledgment of the past and present histories of the Indigenous peoples that are of these lands perpetuates a single story, that of the colonial settler perspective; in this way it informs the ongoing process of settler colonialism to erase the markers of Indigenous presence on the lands.
I was a perfect stranger to settler colonialism and my cultural background of Australian and Sri Lankan heritage contributed to feeling distant from the issue and not putting in effort to find connections. According to Gwen and Okazawa-Rey (2013), “[d]iscovering and claiming our unique identity is a process of growth, change and renewal throughout our lifetime “(p.8). This statement articulates my shifting settler identity through education; I am becoming more aware of the ongoing logic of settler colonialism and my personal responsibility to contest it, as if the Postcards from the Past are now being sent to me as a reminder to act.