Native Hosts consists of 12 aluminum signs that address the relationship between First Nations and British Columbia. The signs are sited at different locations throughout the northwest sector of the UBC campus. On the white background of each sign, “British Columbia” is spelled backwards in red text, followed by the phrase “Today your Host is…” The phrase is completed by one of 12 names of First Nations. Employing the format of official public signage, the artist asks viewers both to consider and to question its authoritative power. The importance of language in Heap of Birds’ work is evident here in the imaginative and challenging use of text to provoke responses to queries around history, public space, land claims as well as notions of generosity and sharing.
The 12 host nations represented in Native Hosts are: Chilcotin, Cree, Haida, Gitksan, Kwagiulth, Lillooet, Lil’wat, Musqueam, Nuu’chah’nulth, St’at’yemc, Squamish and Wet’suwet’en.
Native Hosts was exhibited in 1991 on the grounds of the Vancouver Art Gallery, formerly the province’s law courts, as part of the exhibition Lost Illusions; a similar series was also shown in New York in 1988, at the Portland Art Museum in 2004, at Pitzer College in Claremont, CA in 2014 and in Winnipeg in 2016.
Edgar Heap of Birds (b. 1954) is an internationally known artist and scholar of Cheyenne and Arapaho descent. He earned an MFA from the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia in 1979 and was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts Degree from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston in 2008 and an Honorary Doctorate from Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver in 2017. Since the mid-1970s, he has exhibited in the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia and Europe. He frequently engages with issues addressing colonial history and contemporary Indigenous experience around the world.