The beaver has become a dominant symbol in Canadian culture. It’s 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 it’s 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 has exhibited nationally since 2000, has taught at the university level since 2009, and is a published author of critical theory and review. Currently he is a SSHRC funded, studio-based PhD candidate in Art and Visual Culture at Western University in London, Ontario.