The story of Mayo Singh, a south Asian pioneer in the Cowichan Valley is part of a new traveling exhibit on display at the Cowichan Valley Museum in Duncan. (Cowichan Valley Museum and Archives photo)

Traveling exhibit tells story of Cowichan pioneer Mayo Singh

150 Years and Counting: Fighting for Justice on the Coast

A traveling exhibit called 150 Years and Counting: Fighting for Justice on the Coast highlights the courage of local people who resisted racist government policies and the colonial dispossession of Indigenous peoples and people of Asian heritage.

This exhibit, now on display at the Cowichan Valley Museum and Archives in Duncan, explores the intersection of communities and the desire to preserve their cultures. One of the stories is about the Cowichan Valley’s Mayo Singh, the multicultural logging town of Paldi that he established, and his efforts to battle the disenfranchisement of South Asians.

“For many years, Debra Toporowski could not be a member of the Cowichan Tribes because her mother had married a Chinese Canadian man. Under the Indian Act of 1876, women were forced to give up their status if they married a non-Indigenous person. Today, Toporowski is not only a member of Cowichan Tribes, she is a band councillor. Bill C-31, passed in 1985, amended the Indian Act to prevent this gender-based discrimination following pressure by First Nations women on the government,” said Jenn McGarrigle, communications officer for Vancouver Island University.

Fighting for Justice, on view until Dec. 15, is produced by a curatorial team from the Asian Canadians on Vancouver Island: Race, Indigeneity and the Transpacific project, led by the University of Victoria and funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant. Vancouver Island University’s Dr. Imogene Lim (Department of Anthropology) and the University of Victoria’s Dr. Tusa Shea, program coordinator, Arts and Sciences Programs for UVic’s Division of Continuing Studies curated the exhibit with community partners, including the Cowichan Valley Museum & Archives.

The Cowichan Valley Museum & Archives, a not for profit organization operated by the Cowichan Historical Society, is located in the heritage designated Duncan Train Station on Canada Avenue. Admission is by donation. Winter hours: Wednesday to Friday 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and Saturday 1–4 p.m. For more information, contact curator Kathryn Gagnon at 250-746-6612 or email cvmuseum.archives@shaw.ca.

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