Art & Art History ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 4-30-2020


Spanish explorers first navigated the 2,400-kilometer stretch of the Pacific Northwest Coast in the latter part of the eighteenth-century, largely in response to rumors that Russian traders had established a presence in lands north of Alta California (then considered Spanish territory). Spain launched a series of expeditions to the region, the first in 1774 under Juan Josef Pérez Hernández, and the final, in 1792, under Alejandro Malaspina. The Spanish remained in the area until 1794 when political and territorial tensions with the incoming British forced a negotiation known historically as the Nootka Convention. By 1795, the empire abandoned its aspirations to the Northwest Coast, and withdrew its territorial claims and inventory of scientific, military, and communal holdings.

Under the colonial agenda, Spain was familiar in dealing with Indigenous populations that, historically, used tactics of assimilation, segregation, or eradication. However, upon reaching what is now present-day Vancouver Island, the Spanish encountered cultures that were organized philosophically, psychologically, and sociologically comparable to the political and social constructs under which Spain and New Spain were organized. Their overall policy in dealing with Northwest Coast nations moved from “congregation and missionization” to “relationship building” and ally-ship.

This research focuses on highlighting analogues and points of comparison between two seemingly opposite cultures—Spanish and, specifically, the Nuu-chah-nulth and Tlingit—as recorded through cultural memory, and official/personal journals of the period. Drawing on the concepts of modernity/coloniality and the social history of art, I extrapolate the intricate histories of sixteenth- century Spain to understand how it informed these eighteenth- century interactions. I also examine the complex systems of Northwest Coast nations, guided by the teachings and wisdom of scholars and storytellers of Indigenous descent. In bringing these two cultures together in the space described as “the margins,” this paper constructs a conversation of parallels and analogues that addresses the larger issues of academic decolonization, privileging of knowledge, and the enrichment of history told through an Indigenous lens.



Document Type


Degree Name

Art History

Level of Degree


Department Name

UNM Department of Art and Art History

First Committee Member (Chair)

Ray Hernandez

Second Committee Member

Kirsten Buick

Third Committee Member

Michelle McGeough

Fourth Committee Member

James Frideres


Nuu-chah-nulth, Tlingit, Northwest Coast, Spanish, eighteenth-century, Canada