Nu chexw kw’átchnexw kwétsi sḵel̓áw̓? // Can you See Beaver?

May 12, 2021
Community Project, Educational, Public Art, Web Project

About the Program

Nu chexw kw’átchnexw kwétsi sḵel̓áw̓? // Can you See Beaver? is a community-based research and public art project led by Gitksan Witsuwit’en artist and community organizer Jolene Andrew and produced by grunt gallery Project Curator Nellie Lamb, in collaboration with Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House. The project is collaborative and based in community. It began with a conversation about a historical beaver dam that once blocked Brewery Creek near the spot where Main Street and 14th Avenue now intersect. This led us to wonder about the absence of such an important animal in an urban socio-ecological system and consider how the history of beavers in this landscape can inform our relationships to the land now and into the future. Throughout the project we will be contemplating the importance of keystone species like the beaver, whose knowledge and skills build dams that create wetlands, providing habitat for many other plants and animals. Nu chexw kw’átchnexw kwétsi sḵel̓áw̓? Can you see Beaver? is a reminder to take notice. The project looks to beavers and the other animals and plants in their communities as teachers and guides. It asks questions about obstruction and flow, what has changed and what has endured, and what we can learn from these histories in the ongoing and complex contexts of urbanization, colonization, and decolonization. From March 2021, the project hosted a series of knowledge sharing, field study, planning, and art-making events focused on the landscape, plant, and animal (including human) life in the area that is now known as Mount Pleasant and rooted in the Indigenous knowledge and art of Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), səl̓ilwətaɁɬ təməxʷ (Tsleil-Waututh), and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) storytellers, weavers and other urban Indigenous artists. Events are led by Jolene alongside artists, historians, scientists, storytellers, and knowledge holders and are open to Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members.

This project takes inspiration from Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s writing about beavers, particularly in A Short History of the Blockade, Giant Beavers, Diplomacy, and Regeneration in Nishnaabewin. Simpson writes that in Nishnaabeg culture, the beaver represents wisdom, specifically “the art of kindness in knowledge.” The beaver, she explains, creates a “shared world” that benefits many other animals and plants. She likens the beaver’s dam to the Indigenous-led blockades in support of the Wet’suwet’en opposing Coastal Gas Link’s pipeline through their territory. Beavers remind us that some forms of obstruction can be life-sustaining sites for building community. We are interested in exploring these and other beaver teachings. Near the end of A Short History of the Blockade, Simpson writes: “There is currently a beaver resurgence of sorts happening on Turtle Island. Beavers have been seen round dancing in malls, blockading ports and intersections, holding teach-ins at universities, handing out filly gnawed beaver sticks to hikers. Urban beavers have started to cut down trees in parks and along rivers build dams over urban creeks, flood the odd trail or basement. They’ve starred in their own Imax movie, enticed scientists into studies, and rejected the stereotype of felt hat for something truer to their form. And while there are still those among us who would trap or shoot or relocate, there are also those that are watching quietly, learning, thinking through world making together with the beaver.” We are one such project, seeking to learn about our histories and our futures from the beaver.


Nellie Lamb


2021.0512 CAN


English, Squamish


Vancouver, BC, Canada
Unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ/selilwitulh (Tsleil- Waututh) Nations
​​In copyright. For uses beyond Fair Dealing, research requests, corrections, takedown requests, or other inquiries, please contact grunt gallery:

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