For Nolan, the joke highlights the absurdity of Columbus’s claim and emphasizes the reality that all injustice begins in relationship: how we relate to ourselves, to others, and to the land.
“So, reconciliation begins in relationship, too,” he says. He picks up his smartphone and waves it in the air. “How did our ancestors solve problems before these? They talked, face to face. ‘Come on over! I’ll put on the tea!’”
Nolan has brought this perspective to Science World as a Board Director for almost four years.
“I tell the Board, ‘Hey, we’re family. I already have a canoe-load of brothers and sisters but, under my law, since we all live in Musqueam traditional territories, you’re my relatives.”
Nolan joined Science World’s Board after a re-introduction to former President & CEO, Scott Sampson, whom Nolan attended school with for years, first at Southlands Elementary and then Point Grey High.
“I’ve known him since I was five!” Nolan laughs. “He invited me to lunch, and we sat there eating, and Scott was being very polite. So finally, I said, ‘Scott, no need to beat around the bush. Do you want me to be on your Board?’”
This was before the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (UNDRIP) became law in Canada. It was before the watershed summer of 2020 when George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officers ignited protests around the world and amplified calls for systemic change.
Initially, Nolan says his role on the Board was one of representation and education.
It took some time for people to understand how the Musqueam Indian Band governs its territory, and the relationship that the Nation has with Science World and the land.
“We look at the organization as part of our community,” he says. “And, if we're putting it into cultural context, in a modern-day sense, Science World is our longhouse.”
For thousands of years, longhouses have provided mixed-use space for living, community events and ceremonies. Nolan says that Science World, as a hub for learning, entertainment and discourse, can fulfill a similar role.
“And the roof of our longhouse is leaking. Do we patch the roof, or do we build a whole new longhouse? And, if we do build that longhouse, where do we get the funding from? Who’s going to hop in our canoe?”
A Canoe Journey
The canoe metaphor is apt, as Science World is currently showing Sacred Journey, produced by the Heiltsuk Tribal Council, SeeQuest Development and Greencoast Media, and presented by Vancity. Admission is free for Indigenous Peoples.
The immersive exhibition takes visitors on a voyage to experience the resurgence of Northwest Coast canoe cultures. For thousands of years, the traditional ocean-going canoe (“Glwa”) has been essential for community, culture, and way of life.