Names at Totem Park

Each house at Totem Park Residence was named to honour Indigenous peoples in British Columbia. The newest houses carry place names gifted by our host, the Musqueam Nation, but the original six do not. These two sets of houses represent very different approaches to working with Indigenous communities and provide important lessons for all of us. Please take a moment to begin learning about the history and meaning of these names, and how they should be used.

What is the Power of a Name?

There are 203 First Nations in British Columbia. To recognize some of these diverse communities, the first six houses at Totem Park Residence were named Haida, Salish, Nootka, Dene, Kwakiutl and Shuswap in the 1960s. While the University had good intentions, no Indigenous communities were involved in the naming process nor asked for their permission. As a result, generic anthropological terms were used, and the names Nootka, Kwakiutl, Shuswap and Salish are inaccurate. The first three names should refer to the Nuu-chan-nulth, Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw and Secwepemc nations, while Salish recognizes the Coast Salish peoples, a very broad category that encompasses a large number of communities across Canada and the United States rather than one specific community or place.

“Aboriginal people have their own names for their territories and places. European explorers and settlers did not learn these names but invented their own instead. This is one way that Europeans re-wrote history and excluded Aboriginal people. For example, the city of Vancouver is named after Captain George Vancouver, who was born in England in 1757, and not after a Chief of the territory whose family had lived in Vancouver forever.”

“Some Vancouver place names used today are English versions of Aboriginal words. Often these Aboriginal words were not place names. Naming places after faraway places or people who have never lived there is a European, not Aboriginal, custom.”

First Peoples: A Guide for Newcomers

The original naming process also did not recognize the fact that UBC Vancouver is located on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Musqueam people. In 2011, Student Housing and Hospitality Services began working with the Musqueam Nation to name the new infill houses at Totem Park Residence, and educate students about the true history of the land they are living on. Through a collaborative naming and storytelling process, Musqueam gifted the names həm̓ləsəm̓ and q̓ələχən in 2011, and the name c̓əsnaʔəm in 2017, for use at Totem Park Residence. These are three of the place names within their territory that carry important stories.

Musqueam Territory

UBC Vancouver is located on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Musqueam people. Musqueam’s traditional territory encompasses what is now Vancouver and surrounding areas. Today, portions of Musqueam’s traditional territory are called Vancouver, North Vancouver, South Vancouver, Burrard Inlet, New Westminster, Burnaby, and Richmond.

Click here to explore Musqueam’s interactive place names map.

About the Musqueam Language

The Musqueam community formally adopted the North American Phonetic Alphabet (NAPA) because of its specialized symbols that are designed to be an accurate language documentation and teaching tool. The Musqueam language, hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, contains 36 consonants, 22 not appearing in English and some appearing in only a handful of languages around the world.

Click here to learn the sounds of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ alphabet.

House Name Origins


c̓əsnaʔəm House
Listen to the pronunciation and practice:

c̓əsnaʔəm, one of our Musqueam villages, existed on the stal̕əw̓ (now called the Fraser River) long before Vancouver was founded. For over 4000 years, generations of our ancestors lived at c̓əsnaʔəm. Around 2000 years ago, it grew to become one of our largest villages. Over the past 125 years, archaeologists and collectors have mined c̓əsnaʔəm for our ancestors and their belongings, calling them human remains and artifacts. Today, c̓əsnaʔəm has been paved over and built upon without our consent, yet it is still part of our territory, culture, and history.

həm̓ləsəm̓ House

Opened in 2011
Named with the Musqueam Nation

Listen to the pronunciation and practice:

həm̓ləsəm̓ is a site of transformation (south of Wreck Beach) where χe:l̕s, the transformer who oversaw social behaviour, punished a greedy person for being possessive and wasteful of fresh water from the natural spring. While bent over to drink and unwilling to share this vital resource, he was turned to rock. His chamber pot spilled and became the smaller rock beside him.

“You come as a student to the university to learn things, and transform yourself into the person you think you want to be in your life. However, many times you come in thinking you’re going to be one thing, but because people share resources, which are knowledge contained here at UBC, your life gets transformed into something else, something that you never even thought of.”

— as told by Elder Larry Grant, Musqueam Nation

q̓ələχən House

Opened in 2011
Named with the Musqueam Nation

Listen to the pronunciation and practice:

q̓ələχən is a strategic fortification site (on Point Grey) where Musqueam warriors and their families resided, including warrior of renown, qiyəplenəxʷ (Capilano). qiyəplenəxʷ is widely celebrated for leading war efforts to protect his people from invaders as well as welcoming the first Spanish and English explorers, led by José Narváez (1791) and George Vancouver (1792), to Musqueam territory and initiating trade with them.

“Our warriors at ələχən were on the lookout for raiders from the northerncommunities. In our last battle, before colonization, our lead warrior qiyəplenəxʷ had gathered forces from c̓əsnaʔəm, ʔəy̓alməx and xʷməlc̓θən to go north and bring back resources that were taken from Musqueam. The name qiyəplenəxʷ is carried today and is still used to fight in the arena of social justice. There isa real responsibility in carrying a traditional name—to connect what happenedin the past, to the present.”

— as told by Elder Larry Grant, Musqueam Nation

Haida and Salish Houses
Opened: 1964, named to recognize the Haida Nation and Coast Salish* peoples in BC
*Salish refers to people who speak languages related within the Salishan language family whose territories extended from the northwest United States to the southern tip of Vancouver Island. In this context, Coast Salish refers to Salishan speakers Indigenous to the southeastern part of Vancouver Island and the lower mainland of BC. Many distinct First Nations communities which are Coast Salish, such as Musqueam, have their own languages but they share similar customs.

Resources to learn more:
Council of the Haida Nation
Coast Salish Territories and Communities

The story of Totem Pole Park (current grounds of Totem Park Residence):

Have you ever wondered how the Haida Village located on the grounds of the Museum of Anthropology came to be there? In this film Jim Hart, along with his daughter Lia, reflects on his contributions as an artist to the Haida Village after it was relocated to the Museum of Anthropology from an outdoor museum named Totem Pole Park, where Totem Park Residence was built!

Dene and Nootka Houses
Opened in 1964
Named to recognize the Dene and Nuu-chah-nulth peoples in BC

Did you know?
Nootka is not the name of an Indigenous community. When British Captain James Cook’s ship was drifting too close to a reef in Nuu-chah-nulth territory, he was greeted by hails of “nootka, nootka.” The locals meant to direct Cook to “circle around, circle around” to avoid the rocks. But he mistook “nootka” as their name and gave it also to other Nuu-Chah-nulth peoples. For this reason, you will still see the name “Nootka” in use as a remnant of this history, but it is important to understand its origins and the proper names we should be using instead.

Resources to learn more:
Dene Nation
Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council

Shuswap and Kwakiutl Houses

Opened in 1967
Named to recognize the Secwepemc and Kwakwaka‘wakw peoples in BC

Did you know?
The anthropologist Franz Boas created the term “Kwakiutl” in the early 1800s for the Kwagiulth peoples, one of many communities that comprise the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw Nation. This is one of many examples of an Indigenous name being Anglicized (being made to sound like English).

Resources to learn more:
Secwepemc Territory and Communities
Shuswap Nation Tribal Council
The Kwak̓wala Speaking Peoples

The story of the thunderbird at UBC:

Lou-Ann Ika’wega Neel and Theresa Neel from the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw Nation discuss their family’s role in sharing the Thunderbird name through their traditional system with the University of British Columbia. The film highlights how Indigenous communities and non-Indigenous institutions can collaborate effectively, and how Indigenous peoples continue to assert their sovereignty despite restrictions imposed by Canadian legislation.

Storytelling Initiatives

The Musqueam-SHHS (Student Housing and Hospitality Services) Storytelling Committee, whose members worked together to name c̓əsnaʔəm House in 2017, has been developing educational materials and opportunities for students to learn more about the land, language, culture, and history of the Musqueam people.

Here is a photo gallery of some of the beautiful indoor and outdoor pieces that were recently installed throughout Totem Park. Stay tuned more updates!

Two Headed Serpent

The double-headed serpent is a central figure in the origin story of name xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam). This design featured at c̓əsnaʔəm House as a 40-foot window decal was originally sketched by young Musqueam artist Suzanne Guerin with pencil on paper.

A house post* of the doubled-headed serpent named sʔ:iɬqəy̓ is located adjacent to the Bookstore in the University Commons. It was carved by Brent Sparrow Jr. and raised on April 6, 2016.

Learn the story from Musqueam here: centennial.aboriginal.ubc.ca/musqueam-post
Watch a short animation of Suzanne’s design here, or see it in person at the Museum of Vancouver: https://vimeo.com/157540577

*Did you know there are different types of carving traditions? Many Coast Salish communities, including Musqueam, carve house posts, which are distinct from totem poles.

Totem Park Through Time

The area that Totem Park Residence occupies today used to be the site of an outdoor exhibit called “Totem Pole Park.” This park displayed work by renowned artists Bill Reid (Haida) and Douglas Cranmer (Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw), and was relocated to UBC’s Museum of Anthropology just prior to the construction of the residence. Click here to explore the transformation of this site through time.

The Musqueam people were not consulted during the creation of this park, and thus there was no Musqueam representation in this space. There is a rich tradition of carving house posts are carved within the Musqueam community, either in the construction of traditional longhouses, or exterior to homes and buildings. Totem poles are not part of their tradition, and are used by nations who have heraldic clans.

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