The Salmon do not Consent

Christi Belcourt is a Métis artist from Alberta, who was raised in Ontario. She is part of an artistic and family known for their art and Indigenous rights advocacy. For those who don’t know, the Métis are one of three peoples legally recognized as aboriginal or indigenous, by the Canadian government. The other peoples are the First Nations (Indians) and Inuit.

Belcourt is a visual artist, who draws upon her identity as an Indigenous woman. Following is a description of her work, from her website:

Like generations of Indigenous artists before her, the majority of her work explores and celebrates the beauty of the natural world and traditional Indigenous world-views on spirituality and natural medicines while exploring nature’s symbolic properties. Following the tradition of
Métis floral beadwork, Belcourt uses the subject matter as metaphors for human existence to relay a variety of meanings that include concerns for the environment, biodiversity, spirituality and Indigenous rights. Although known primarily as a painter, she has for years been also practicing traditional arts.

You can find many examples of varied artwork at her online gallery. Besides the pieces you can find in the gallery, Belcourt also creates a great many graphic pieces, related to Indigenous rights and environmental protection. She makes these available for public use. Once such piece, posted recently on her Facebook page, particularly caught my eye.

This image addresses the “Trans Mountain” pipeline system. The Kinder Morgan cooperation is attempting to expand the capacity of this pipeline system, which will increase the environmental degradation at the Tar Sands of Alberta, where it originates. The pipeline ends at the Salish Sea, in British Columbia, and thus crosses a great deal of aboriginal Canadian land. The majority of First Nations along its pathway oppose the construction, because of the damage done at the Tar Sands as well as the possibility of further damage along its route (the pipeline has had numerous leaks, in the past).

Belcourt’s art implies that the salmon of British Columbia also oppose the Trans Mountain pipeline. This may seem like an odd claim to mainstream Canadians and Americans. However, traditional Indigenous peoples typically recognize animals as non-human persons, with whom they maintain reciprocal relations. Ancient stories often tell of agreements made between the Creator, culture heroes, or game animals themselves and humans. Generally speaking, these agreements stipulate that the animals “consent” to give their lives to humans, if they, in return, are honored and their overall populations protected. For a far more detailed explanation of such reciprocal relationships, I recommend the book Animism: Respecting the Living World (Columbia University Press, 2006), by Religious Studies scholar Graham Harvey.

I think many anglers can understand the relationships described above, even if we do not necessarily see animals as fellow persons. After all, a concern for conservation is reflected in angling literature dating back over 500 years in Europe. Authors emphasize the need to care for fish habitat and even to respect the fish (the latter need is particularly clear in Izaak Walton’s 1653 Complete Angler, in order to enjoy their sport). Today, many anglers join organization like Trout Unlimited or Backcountry Hunters and Anglers in order to “give back” to the fish.

In general, though, most Canadians, Americans, and Europeans are not very cognizant of the impact their actions have upon others–even their fellow humans. Drawing from her own people’s views, and those of other Indigenous Peoples, Belcourt urges us to do otherwise. I should add that we must do so, being fully prepared to consume less energy (lest any readers accuse me of hypocrisy). Make no mistake, while I am not the perfect person, I do consider the consequence of my actions regularly.

2 Responses to “The Salmon do not Consent”

  1. Eglute Says:

    Ken, thank you for a great post. I am teaching chapters 4 and 5 from your book this semester and I will bring up your great post.

    Liked by 1 person

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