c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city Review


Photo Courtesy of Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers || c’əsnaʔəm: the city before the city


c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city initially debuted as videos at the Museum of Anthropology in January 2015. The director, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, as well as Musqueam and the Museum of Anthropology, decided to officially release these clips as a historical documentary based around several interview, at the Vancouver International Film Festival, as apart of their SEA TO SKY program in October.

This documentary centres Musqueam First Nation, a Coast Salish nation that lives and has historically lived on the coast in what is now known as Metropolitan Vancouver and surrounding areas. c̓əsnaʔəm is a Musqueam village that dates back over 9000 years. c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city is a documentary about the fight that Musqueam put forward to regain control of their lands from a 108 unit condo development, in order to protect their lands and burial site.

This documentary was created by Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers recording several interviews with elders and community members about their experiences holding vigil for 100 days. Elders and community members talk about the process of regaining their unceded lands through purchasing it.

One distinct moment in the film is when a witness, one of many Musqueam elders holding vigil next to a development in construction, remembered seeing bones sticking out of the ground. It is appalling that someone could disregard the remains of another human being so easily.

Indigenous Canadians have faced so many political barriers in a colonial system that was thrust upon them over a century ago. Indigenous people weren’t meant to thrive in a colonial system, we were meant to thrive in our way of life. A prime example of this is why the Musqueam band had to purchase back their unceded lands for a village that was, and still is, rightfully theirs. They had to buy back their unceded and stolen land, just so they can respect their ancestors in their own ceremonial way. They shouldn’t have to, yet in the Western world that we live in, they did.

Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers does a concise job conducting interviews, filming the vigil, filming the process, and highlighting voices of Musqueam. This particular event happened over five years ago, but I feel like it is quite timeless. Things like this are happening all over Turtle Island daily. It’s important to highlight these events and similar events so people know it’s still happening, and so Canada can start talking about it.

Ultimately this film is a story of cultural persistence and perseverance for Musqueam, and I’m so glad that Musqueam took a stand. Musqueam rightfully put up a fight, made noise, and were successful in reclaiming part of their traditional and ancestral territory; which is not as good as I’d like it to be, but better than it was. The viewer leaves this documentary feeling infuriated and inspired, and so happy for Musqueam and their victory.

The Indigenous Collective would like to say thank you to the Vancouver International Film Festival for the opportunity to see c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city on one of its last runs.

c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city will have one final screening on December 13 at Vancity Theatre. The event is pay what you can. Unceded Airwaves highly recommends seeing this important film.




To read an interview with c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city director, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, read it from the September issue of Discorder here.