sturgeon harpoon illustration in foreshortened perspective

To Musqueam, a sturgeon is more than simply a sturgeon. It’s an entry point to aspects of language, territory, health, technology, and our society, and the respect and responsibilities that accompany them. It is part of a larger web of mutually dependent knowledge.

A sturgeon harpoon describes a relationship between elk, eagles, Douglas fir, and moles, our need to access our territory, and the way we to come together as a family to pass on knowledge. When a link in this web is broken, it’s a loss to the whole web of knowledge and to our relationships.

- Jason Woolman

xʷməθkʷəyəm | Musqueam First Nation

Take a look at the 2D visualization of the knowledge web.

Explore the nodes of the web below.

sturgeon harpoon illustration in foreshortened perspective



Bald Eagle

Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Eagle feathers transmit the feel of the riverbed, or a sturgeon, up the harpoon to the person holding it.

“...the third wingtip feather is very important, the second is too stiff and the fourth is too flimsy.”

“The sound is travelling down the feather, kind of like a record scratching.

Videos courtesy the Museum of Anthropology - UBC




Cervus canadensis

Elk antler is used to hold the slate harpoon tips. Elk bone can be used instead of slate for the harpoon tips themselves:

“You can’t condition slate the same way you can condition bone where you can hang it up in the rafters, let the smoke get at it, you keep polishing it, and the little bits of carbon that go into the pores then actually act as a binding agent to give it more tensile strength.”

Elk sinew is also used to tie the pieces of the harpoon together.

Videos courtesy the Museum of Anthropology - UBC



Douglas fir

Pseudotsuga menzies

The shaft of the harpoon is made from Douglas fir or yellow cedar. Douglas fir is denser and more neutrally buoyant in the water.



Scouring rush

Equisetum sp.

Actually a spore-producing plant more closely related to ferns, scouring rushes, or horsetails, contain silica crystals in their cells, making them abrasive. They can be used to scour pans, or as a fine sandpaper.



Steller sea lion

Eumetopias jubatus

The end of the rope closest to the points contains sea lion intestine, whereas the majority is cedar bark.

“This section from here to here is the braided sea lion; it’s elasticity, it’s like the play on a lead.”

braided cedar and sea lion intestine cord

Image courtesy the Museum of Anthropology - UBC



White sturgeon

Acispenser transmontanus

It starts when you're a kid... you play around with it, but then you start asking about it and it goes from being a toy that's representative to the actual history coming alive again... It teaches you that connection to where you are and where you come from... it starts painting that living picture of the history that you've come from... I mean, if we were to start fishing for sturgeon, it would be many, many generations before we can even use an implement like this again because it would have to be a selective measure considering the amount of destruction that's been, but it's important to remember why this was there. How much... sturgeon was, not only part of our diet, but part of our culture, part of our trade.