Land & Sea Project: Community Ecosystem Reconnection Rebecca graham, earthand gleaners society - bc studies no. 202, Summer 2019

The Land & Sea Project was conceived by EartHand Gleaners Society artists and community members as a response to the question "Where do we need to go deeper in our practice?" The cultural impulse towards reconnecting to the land and "rewilding" through foraging and gleaning is growing stronger; and as key knowledge holders, EartHand collaborators can help temper public enthusiasm with respect and a deeper, more layered understanding shared by all.

The Land & Sea Project brought community together to explore key materials and techniques common to northern coastal cultures worldwide: nettles, flax for linen, fish leather, and nets; while building a shared understanding of how we can live in the Salish Territories with integrity and respect.

Our methods and materials predate the distinction between art and craft; a time when song, dance, story, embellishment, and design were woven into daily life worldwide. Our work speaks of the good feelings of being together, gratitude to the land, and pride of accomplishment and contribution.

"If we're careful, we won't get stung; our ancestors knew how to respect nettles."

"We all get to help."

"Here, let me show you what I mean..."

"It's different from what I've done in the past, but I like using my skills to help out."
"I used to teach it this way."
"This way has worked for me."

"We all have something to contribute."

"When we put it all together, it really adds up."

Building knowledge capital, community connections, and shared understanding involves a tremendous amount of emotional work, including healing. Land & Sea held the space for this emotional work in the quiet coming-together that happens when human beings join together in shared labour.

"It takes time to get a feel for it, but then it's sort of meditative."

"I remember how it used to be."

"It's too rough for a drift net, but it would be fine for a dip net -- and there were a lot more fish in the river back then."

"When my hands are busy, I'm more open."

Our time together was confessional, vulnerable, uncomfortable, hopeful. Some people shared powerful stories of connecting with the land, and the healing that they received; others shared the healing that they've seen in the ecosystems, such as chum salmon runs returning to Vancouver's Still Creek. Some reconnected with their ancestors from distant lands, and it brought happiness, fulfillment, and also awareness of loss.

Karen: "It was so powerful for me to be able to see ancestral skills passed around from many cultures and to see the similarities woven throughout. Sharon at the nettle weaving table mentioned that nettles have been used by her ancestors in Ireland and by the peoples of this land. And you pointed out that you're remembering skills from your ancestors in China and learning from the practices of other cultures too. It was all magic!"

Haruko: "Up until that time I never felt like I belonged here - typical feeling for many brown people, but journeying across the pristine north of Canada... I finally realized that it was the political, social, cultural structure that made me feel I didn't belong here, but the land said… yes, here is where you are home…To get to the point where I am fully in tune with this land is the hardest thing I've come up against... And I don't think that changing our thinking is going to be enough… we have to go deeper."

Kamala: "The Indigenous Laws of the Land protected the balance; sustainability IS decolonization."

Not all revelations were comfortable. Some feel grief and exclusion when they are invited to think of themselves as "visitors", when the conversation recentres the inherent rights of the Host Nations, who have been part of this land since time out of mind.

Many serious faces as we listen to panelists Dionne Paul, Bardia Khaledi (hidden) and Cease Wyss speak about Indigenous rights and foraging

Others feel a welcome, and the first small steps towards reconciliation.

"Fish leather? I've never seen anything like that before, but it's interesting."

"We were welcomed at the Longhouse; I left feeling so grounded and connected."

"My brother and I worked together to make these spindles."

"Things have changed, but we'll figure it out."

Some Land & Sea participants became knowledge- and skill-holders themselves, and some new acquaintances joined us to share their skills - building capacity within the project, and within ever-widening and -strengthening circles of community.

Anna, Catherine, Rashmi, Carole, Lori, Rosemary, Michael, Michael, Butch, and Alley are among many valued community skillholders in the Land & Sea Project, acknowledged with honoraria from the project budget.

Dedicated to all our relations.

More about us:

EartHand Gleaners Society uses a community-engaged model for creating environmental art projects with opportunities for research, skill development, and skill sharing. We aim to strengthen intercultural connections and relationships to place, and find meaningful ways to acknowledge our Host Nations. Respectful collaboration is the core of our practice.

We work towards place-based community development - modelling how to “Be a Producer without first being a Consumer”: to be outdoors working with others, hands in the soil; and being aware of, and depending on, interconnected relationships with the land, other people, and plants. By working with the plants around us using ancestral skills that link all cultures, we inspire participants to discover cultural connections, learn new skills, and see raw materials for creative practices in the world around them, including up-purposed seasonal green waste, invasive plants, and textile waste.

The Land & Sea Project was made possible through funding from BC Arts Council, City of Vancouver Cultural Services, and Vancouver Park Board; and through the generous contributions of time and effort of community members.


Photos by Karen Barnaby, Rebecca Graham, and Sharon Kallis.

Presentation & Text by Rebecca Graham

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