Engaging Coastal Communities on Energy Futures
“Water can give life. Water can take life. Water has spirit and energy.”
~ Secwepemc land defender, mother and birthworker Kanahus Manuel
Seascapes as Abundant Life
Despite over a century of epistemological, ontological, political, economic, and geographic colonization by governments in Canada and the United States, Indigenous communities across the Pacific Ocean and worldwide have continually fought to center their worldviews in relation to water. These communities have engaged in an active resurgence through the revitalization of land and water-based practices, literacies, and knowledges while emphasizing the centrality of water to life.
The Standing Rock movement brought renewed attention to water’s vital role in our existence; indeed, water is life. Growing to define the movement, the “Water is Sacred” image designed by Indigenous artists Christi Belcourt and Isaac Murdock spread through Indian country, crossing colonially imposed international borders covering lamp posts, carried as banners during marches, marking t-shirts, buttons, and patches. The teaching resonates deeply with communities across what is now the United States and Canada, as we are reminded of the importance of water to all forms of life.
All across the Pacific Ocean, communities articulate a deep relationship to sealife. The ocean is not an instrumental site of commodification but rather is animate, a life force with the power to heal and the power to harm. Seascapes are vital matters of life and death.
Oceans are places to be feared and revered. Stories and lived-experiences reveal this in layered ways.
The Seascape Indigenous Storytelling Studio is designed to facilitate meaningful assessment of community’s thoughts on, and representations of, energy development.
This studio is a set of multi-modal mobile storytelling tools that travels to selected communities. Our collaborative research team will offer on-site training and communities will become key drivers in developing these tools according to their own needs for representation. As such, our project promotes a new model for public engagement on one of the most pressing issues facing Canada today in a manner that brings marginalized voices to the fore.
The seascape storytelling studio develops digital storytelling tools which then can travel and be used by further communities in an effort to nourish Indigenous ways of representing and communicating not only impacts of energy development, but also other natural resource development proposals.
Academics, activists and policy-makers articulate the dire need for sound research that examines BC’s energy future.
The seascape team provides creative and collaborative insight into how the expansion of BC’s energy infrastructure is currently developed and experienced by coastal communities. BC has been selected as the central case study as it represents a particularly important site to explore the impact of energy development given ongoing land claims, and Aboriginal rights and title in BC’s largely unceded territory.
These projects impact Indigenous communities in unique ways sparking responses from support for economic growth to legal action and protest. The Tsilhqot’in BC Supreme Court decision in 2014 reveals how the Tsilhqot’in National Government is taking action over land, resources and energy. This decision influences how governments and corporations engage with Indigenous communities.
Given the pressing – unresolved – issues arising from energy infrastructural development in BC this research is imperative. Equally, this project is innovative in terms of its methodology. Bringing the university outside the academy to the broader community, the innovative Seascape Indigenous Storytelling Studio forges an engaged and democratic collaboration between academics, artists and Indigenous communities to understand and visualize the impacts of proposed energy projects through creative digital mapping tools and resources.
We identify the following key research questions in order to understand how the development of energy has been represented in BC and how this representation might be more inclusive:
What are the official industry representations of ‘impact’ upon coastal Indigenous communities identified as ‘directly affected’ by proposed pipeline projects?
How do these representations converge or diverge from the energy futures envisioned by Indigenous communities directly affected by these energy initiatives?
As we envision a shared energy future that promotes principles of dignity, reciprocity and respect, what does an ethical form of representation entail for future engagement on energy initiatives?
Seascapes Answers These Questions in Several Ways
First we document and evaluate existing and ongoing energy debates in the province of BC regarding the impact of a high-profile pipeline initiative on Indigenous peoples and lands.
Our inquiry comprises of a dual-level analysis of the prominent discourses constructed by 1) corporations and 2) Indigenous community narratives and stories pairing interpretive, discourse analysis with digital and visual community-mapping, thus contributing to a fledgling field specializing in the arts of engagement. Drawing attention to the effects of energy development on coastal communities we aim to advance oceanic geographies that push in less landlocked directions to create space for lively questions about cultures of living in marine environs.
In order to achieve this goal our Seascapes crew forges an innovative collaboration between academics, artists and Indigenous communities.
We document and visualize impacts of energy development and expansion through creative digital mapping tools and resources within the very Indigenous communities that stand to be greatly affected by, but have been largely marginal to, energy development plans to date and seem to envision them otherwise.