Environmental Sustainability and Customary Indigenous Law


Environmental Sustainability and Customary Indigenous Law

Indigenous artists are incorporating customary laws into environmental sustainability efforts to move into a climate friendly future. Customary Law encompasses Indigenous elder teachings of traditional ways of knowing. First Nations’ elder knowledge is considered crucial to the educational pathways being carved out by First Nations students today.

I recently interviewed my brother, Dave Robinson, Anishinaabe sculpture artist, to hear about his efforts to respect the environment through customary Indigenous practices and protocols with Coast Salish Knowledge Keeper Shane Pointe. Dave described his journey with carving that started about eight years ago while transferring from Langara College to the University of British Columbia’s (“UBC”) Native Indian Teacher Education Program within his observational practicum working on a carving project for Vancouver’s Take a Hike program.

“We began a 12’ Red Cedar log sculpture named Many Beings; which received a pole raising ceremony from... Shane Pointe... I realized in the moment that... I became a carver, and inherited the responsibility of knowing and taking the necessary actions I am aware of to start and finish each carving project in a good way.”

Dave has since produced a series of wooden sculptures that “... allude to the importance of the social, emotional, physical, and intellectual experiences that develop when incorporating Indigenous knowledge when carving with community.” In creating his sculptures, Dave has also honed his gratitude for community gift-giving — an Indigenous practice. Three years ago, while carving a 24’ Red Cedar sculpture, Dave encouraged Polygon Homes to recycle and donate several trees near UBC Farm for the purpose of carving with Vancouver School Board (“VSB”) youth.

This community aspect of carving has become important to Dave in tying together customary Indigenous
practices with education and en-vironmental knowledge. At a recent “gifting ceremony” held at Lord Byng Secondary on October 4, 2020, Dave was part of an event where thirty sculptures were gifted to community educational institutions, health clinics, and individual persons. Dave found that, “the event was an important marker for my sculpting practice because I redistributed the wealth of Red Cedar Medicine that was given to me, transformed and gifted back to the community. My mother Dr. Jocelyne Robinson shared with me that in our traditional territory Timiskaming [Quebec], hunting was done on family tracts of land. Permissions to hunt on a neighbours land could be obtained through agreements of equal shared resources of your land.” Comparative permissions protocols were extended as part of Dave’s engagement in traditional Coast Salish cultural ceremonies for his carving practice.

Dave was mentored by Uncle Shane Pointe and was able to share his Medicine Wheel Puzzle Project Log with VSB through an honouring ceremony. “My Mother Dr. Jocelyne Robinson also came, and shared knowledge of her Dream Narrative: Ekwânamo Dream project. This ceremony incorporated Algonquin and Coast Salish Knowledge Keepers.” Dave anchored Shane Pointe’s teachings with his own learning by sharing several sculptures he’d carved with recycled wood over the course of two years with community members.

Dave described the importance of asking for guidance and permission from Coast Salish peoples, on Musqueam land at UBC, as invaluable to his experiences as a visitor to this community. “I asked Coast Salish Knowledge Keeper Shane Pointe for permission to carve and live on Coast Salish Territory and was granted that privilege. When I start carving projects it is important to ask for help and permission to begin our work in a good way. This protocol was followed.”

Dave’s future carving projects, including a 100’ Red Cedar sculpture, aim to bring together youth linking both Indigenous knowledge and Western science to engage in respectful relationships for each other and Mother Earth.

PHOTO: October 04, 2020 — Cedar Sculpture Gifting Ceremony held at Lord Byng Secondary. Artist and educator, Dave Robinson, repurposed logs from Polygon for gifting to community members.