The beaver has become a dominant symbol in Canadian culture. Its image continues to invoke national history, sought-after character traits, and environmental stewardship. The beaver creates habitats and is recognized as a vital component in the health of our ecosystem. As such, the beaver reminds us of the people we imagine ourselves to be, friendly, resolute, and hard-working. The beaver is intimately tied to European settlement of the North American continent and represents a period in Canadian history dominated by a belief that human economies and natural ecosystems operated independently of one another and that the land and animals were resources to be exploited for the greater good of mankind.
Beavers are also a living symbol of the negative and enduring aspects of colonization in this country. Settlement and the creation of the nation state happened in a culture that saw nature, and its inhabitants as objects, and made distinctions based on privilege, race, and power. This history led to not only the near extinction of the beaver, but also to genocidal practices of settlement and colonization of Canada’s Indigenous populations. Our focus on the beaver and the history invoked in the creation of the nation state, grounds the notion that the fur trade was the founding moment of Canada and that Europeans are the natural inheritors of the land, it’s resources, and its governance. As you eat this beaver, create a link between your own personal identity and the history of colonization that shapes it.
Michael Farnan is a multidisciplinary artist currently living in Victoria Harbour, Ontario. He is a recent graduate from Western University’s studio-based Ph.D. program in Art and Visual Culture, where he presently teaches in the drawing department as sessional professor. Michael’s new performance works include Once Were Pilgrims, with Lori Blondeau and Adrian Stimson, and solo performance work, Searching for Grey Owl, both created for the Two Story Cafe Performance Art Festival, hosted by the Prince Albert, SK. based Indigenous Peoples Art Collective. Recent Group shows include Nation 2 Nation: Widening the Narrows, curated by Matt McIntosh and Wanda Nanibush, and Mamoowiang To Make Change, curated by Jaimie Isaac and Leah Decter. Michael’s art practice explores Canadian representational history and discourses surrounding colonialism, wilderness, nature, and nationhood. His work employs humour, parody and, most importantly, collaboration as tools for critical inquiry and reflections on how we think about relationships to nature and each other.