The story of coal in the Appalachian Mountains of the United States was told last week in Hay River through the visit of an intricate piece of art.
A massive banner – called The True Cost of Coal – was brought to the community by Ecology North, which believes it contains lessons that can be relevant to the North.
Jade Cambron, the waste reduction program manager with Ecology North in Yellowknife, explained the meaning of the banner at a presentation at NWT Centennial Library on Nov. 25 and the next day at Diamond Jenness Secondary School.
The artwork was created by the Beehive Design Collective of Machias, Maine.
“It took them three years to do this masterpiece that you see before you,” Cambron said during her presentation at the library.
It tells the story of coal mining in West Virginia, and particularly focuses on the devastating environmental impacts. In addition, there are stories in the drawing about economic inequality, exploitation of native people, colonization, industrialization, labour resistance, mountaintop removal, unfair distribution of wealth, the impacts of a consumer economy and much more.
The eight-by-20-foot cloth print, which was in the NWT for the first time, also uniquely uses animals as characters to tell the various stories.
“Animals are a way that we can talk about these characters and talk about these stories without it becoming personal,” said Cambron.
The artwork is so detailed that she received pamphlets and had to take online training from the Beehive Design Collective just to be able to explain it.
Ten volunteers from the Beehive Design Collective created the work.
Over the course of three years, they went down to the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia and Kentucky to talk to people. The research started in 2008 and the artwork was finished in 2011.
Cambron said Northerners think they are far removed from coal.
“It’s this idea that it’s down in the southern United States and it has nothing to do with me,” she said.
However, she said coal is part of a global system where it is used to produce electricity, steel, cement and most plastic things made in China.
“We’re still very much implicated in it,” Cambron said, even while adding that Canada is moving away from burning coal for energy.
“I want people to think about how they’re engaging with the system,” she added.
Cambron said thinking about coal mining in the U.S. can also offer lessons for mining in Canada.
She also believes The True Cost of Coal is pertinent to the North because of the way the Beehive Design Collective focuses on reconnection with the land and storytelling.
“I think that’s a really big part of Dene culture and of First Nations cultures,” she said.
Kim Rapati was impressed by the massive drawing after listening to Cambron’s presentation at the library.
“It’s a neat thing that people here could do, too,” she said. “Like talk to people about their stories and then create a beautiful mural that can tell that story. It is a great way to share experiences.”
Rapati also said it was exciting to hear the story of coal mining in West Virginia.
“I love being able to see a really engaging story from another place because, although it’s not our story, it gives us all kinds of parallel insights into how to tell a story and into this global world that we’re connected to,” she said.
Cambron also took the banner to Behchoko, Fort Providence and Kakisa during her travels last week.