I was lucky enough in my Master’s thesis to be able to incorporate some of my artistic interests into my research. I carved linocuts (stamps) to represent my research findings from my 40 interviews on Haida Gwaii during the summers of 2015 and 2016. Below I have included segments from the second chapter of my thesis. I left much of the analysis out to focus on the linocuts and explaining my thought process behind them. However, if you are interested in reading the whole thing or would like to know references please email me at msh840 at mail.usask.ca .
After conducting my interviews on Haida Gwaii I started making word maps, theme webs, and other ways to visually represent my findings. This process evolved into more purely artistic imaginings of the data. I find that art projects; quilting, printmaking, and sculpting with polymer clay helps me process what I have learned or what I have been thinking about. Using art as a way to both process and create information is known as “arts-based research.” The process of “knowing through the arts takes place in ways that are distinctly different yet complementary to more logical cognition” (McNiff 2007, 30). I decided to make linocuts that would augment and express my written findings.
Stamp One: The Marine Environment
“Living here in Masset we just live very close to the ocean anyway. We get a lot of our food from the ocean. We fish for salmon throughout the season, dig clams. There’s a lot of different reasons why the ocean is important to our lives, generally speaking.” –Interviewee F1, (Female, 30s)
The first linocut I made for my Haida Gwaii series is intended to show the richness and diversity of the marine environment; the sea urchins, kelp beds, seaweed, sea stars, clams, king crabs, herring, salmon, and marine birds. This stamp is meant to show the complexity of the marine environment and the dependence of the health of the system on many keystone species (Paine 1969).
Stamp Two: Deer and Herring
“Know that food costs quite a bit here and so being able to sort of eat, especially over the winter, salmon and deer.” –Interviewee M5, (Male, 40s)
I carved this linocut to represent Haida Gwaii residents’ dependence on both the marine and terrestrial environments. The herring is meant to represent the marine environment because it is an important cultural keystone species (Garibaldi and Turner 2004). The health of other “main” marine species is linked in one way or another to herring population and health, thus the herring, in a way, directly supports all human life on Haida Gwaii. The deer, although an introduced species on the islands that have created significant ecological changes, are likewise an important protein source for locals. I intend the deer and the herring circling the islands as a metaphor for the dependence residents have on harvesting their own foods to be able to afford to live on Haida Gwaii.
I also wanted this stamp to show the connection between the land and the sea, a connection that residents are keenly aware of. One woman explained the intertwining between the marine and terrestrial environments, “salmon are a land fish you could say, like land birds, they come up all the streams and rivers to spawn.” Interviewee F10 (Female, 70s) Another woman went on and explained the same understanding of connectedness, “There’s a Haida saying that everything depends on everything else; the forest depends on the salmon. So, in the cedar they find the very same things that are in the salmon, the bears feed on the salmon, they carry the carcass into the woods, those carcasses fertilize the cedars and it’s all this big cycle.” Interviewee F14 (Female, 40s) To many residents the marine and terrestrial environments are part of a whole and what impacts one impacts the other. The environmental system is a cycle and the health of one is dependent upon the health of the other.
Stamp Three: Herring Laying Roe on Kelp
I knew in my stamp series for my thesis I would have to make a stamp showing a herring laying roe (eggs) on kelp. At the time of our interviews 2015-2016 a significant conflict was going on between the Council of the Haida Nation and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans over the opening of the Pacific herring fishery.
While this stamp is a straight forward image of a herring, I was thinking of the communities’ concerns and the political significance of the herring while I was designing and carving the stamp. The fight over the herring represents the fight over the marine environment and how the residents of Haida Gwaii, specifically the Council of the Haida Nation have had to be such forceful advocates for their non-human neighbors. It has taken over ten years for the herring population to inch back from near collapse, and they are still nowhere near their original numbers.
Stamp Four: LNG and Enbridge
“One major oil spill could finish us for years.” –Interviewee, (Male, 70s)
Another major environmental and political conflict during my time on Haida Gwaii centered on the proposed LNG and Enbridge pipelines. It was a significant theme through many of my interviews, and residents were afraid of what the pipeline and resulting supertankers could mean to marine and human life on Haida Gwaii. As I discussed at length in the previous chapter, many people fear the possibility an oil spill, and how that would impact marine life. I had originally not intended to include a stamp about the pipelines because I felt the other stamps explained my time on Haida Gwaii. However, when I thought back to my interviews it felt wrong to leave out something that captured the attention of so many locals. I want to give a full picture of my conversations with residents and it is important to include Enbridge and LNG. In this stamp I reproduce the common lawn sign that people used to protest the pipelines (in the upper-right and lower-left quadrants), contrasted with an aerial view of a supertanker and a segment of oil pipeline. This is intended to show the two, starkly polarized sides of the conflict. For Haida Gwaii residents, the strong shared opposition to the proposed pipelines was very black and white. If there are no supertankers transporting oil off of the Coast of British Columbia there is no threat to the marine environment, “there’s no off shore oil and gas occurring, so there’s no opportunity for oil spills. It’s probably one of the healthiest marine environments along the coast actually.” Interviewee F10 (Female, 70s) Residents talk about environmental in terms of risk, the risk of the herring fishery causing the herring population to collapse and the risk of the tankers spilling oil along the B.C. coast.
Stamp Five: The Seine Boat
“I remember being interviewed for the New York Times, he’s sitting in an office in New York, in his mind he couldn’t understand there’s people in this world who are concerned about that tree being healthy and the ocean being clean. Because my future depends on it and the health of my children and grandchildren depend on it. No, you get your food from the store, that connection’s not there, it’s broken.” –Interviewee M8, (Male, 70s)
The final stamp is intended to illustrate the residents of Haida Gwaii’s special connection to their ocean. Locals view outsiders and “city people” as lacking a fundamental connection to place and the natural world and thus for the most part unable to understand why they are so passionate about protecting the environment. In this stamp, I am representing this special relationship in anthropocentric terms, using the value of human life as a metaphor for the value Haida Gwaii residents put on the marine environment and marine resources. When locals see what they believe to be unsustainable harvesting of fish, any species of fish, they see their families and their communities being irreparably harmed. In a sense they see their children’s health and future being dragged from the ocean. That is why they are so passionate and so vocal about protecting their environment.
The global trend to focus on resource development has come at the expense of human communities. I also intend with this stamp to illustrate unsustainable development and extraction is consuming communities by removing important resources, undermining relationships, creating conflicts, and leaving communities with a sense of powerlessness. Rural communities have been disenfranchised from their local environments and forced to carry the burdens and costs of often unwanted resource development. Not only do the communities absorb environmental harm but they do so while not receiving the financial or employment benefits. The concerns over the pipelines tells the same story as the seine boat, the residents of Haida Gwaii bore the risk of an oil spill, the people who profit from the shipping of oil are not dependent on the marine environment to feed their families and would not have to move if there was an oil spill. Local control over the local environment would be an incredibly positive global trend and while slowing business development I believe it would likely encourage environmental protection as people would treat their environment more cautiously than outsiders would. I feel that locally controlled sustainable development in an area, such as Haida Gwaii, would generate well-paid local employment and encourage community growth while being mindful of environmental health.
Being able to incorporate my outside artistic interests into my Masters research was a very fulfilling experience for me and I feel the images I was able to create helped to communicate my findings. I hope my thesis encourages other students in the School of Environment and Sustainability (SENS) to pursue using alternative formats and approaches for analyzing and communicating their findings. SENS currently has a policy to allow students to use alternative formats as the principle component of their thesis, yet no student has yet taken advantage of this opportunity. My work reveals just some of the potential for using this policy to explore one’s standpoint in relation to their research, and also to use their work to tap into dimensions of sustainability that cannot be effectively explored or communicated through scientific writing for venues such as peer reviewed journals. Hopefully my reflections in this section will inspire future students to experiment with their work in whatever way best resonates with them and with their research partners/collaborators. My prints are currently being displayed in the SENS main office.