Canada’s Gift to the National Museum of the American Indian

By Shauna Lewis

Canada and her Indigenous artists were honored in the days leading up to the opening of Washington D.C.’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), which opened on September 21.

While many of our nation’s artists were celebrated in various ways, Coast Salish carver and painter Susan Point will be forever immortalized within the walls of the NMAI. Commissioned by Canadian Foreign Affairs, Point’s large carving entitled The Beaver and the Mink will be permanently stationed within the highly esteemed Smithsonian building.

Susan Point presented her beautifully executed piece of Coast Salish artistry on September 17, in a staging accessible only to Museum staff, esteemed guests and media. Accompanied by her relative, Larry Grant and daughter Kelly Cannell; Susan Point was welcomed by Gerald McMaster, head curator of the NMAI, and other museum dignitaries.

In talking to Larry Grant, member of Vancouver B.C.’s Coast Salish Musqueam Nation; the symbolic nature of the piece was brought to life.

“It’s cross cultural,” said Grant. “We have the sea around Canada and the economy of Canada was developed around the fur trade.”

Grant is right, Canada was established through the 19th century fur trade, and with the cyclical movement of the piece represented through its circular design; the artistry does symbolically note the symbiotic trade relations between Canada and the United States.

In asking what he hopes this piece represents to those who view it, Grant noted, “I would like them to see that our stories are valuable in the sense that it is a story of the creation of the salmon people.” The salmon people who, noted Grant, are very important to the Coast Salish people.

Following in her mother’s footprints, Point’s daughter Kelly Cannell, talked of her future as an up-and-coming artist. “I do it because I love it,” said Cannell, in reference to her artistic gift. In creating carvings, silk screen and glass creations, Cannell expressed the importance of loving what you do: “Put your heart into it and you can do it.”

Point’s philosophy is similar to her daughter’s as she expressed a desire to expose the beautiful artistry of the Northwest coast. She hopes people like her piece and will gain “more knowledge of a Salish art form.”

She is nothing less than a living testimony to her people and their artistry. “Salish art is not as well known as it should be,” said Point. By “setting our Salish footprint upon the D.C. land” Point said an example of such artistry and cultural reverence will be acknowledged and honored for generations to come.

If her piece in the NMAI is any indication of the desire for Coast Salish artistic and cultural acknowledgment- then I believe Susan Point has accomplished just what she set out to do.