Faces in the Forest: First Nations Art Created on Living Trees


224 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-2256-5
DDC 704.03'970711




Reviewed by Joan A. Lovisek

Joan Lovisek, Ph.D., is a consulting anthropologist and ethnohistorian
in British Columbia.


Trees have always been important to Native peoples in British Columbia,
from their utilitarian use in house construction to the creation of
elaborate totem poles. Tree art is carved images on living trees,
usually in the form of a face. This book investigates the intended
meanings of tree art from a First Nations perspective and demonstrates
how that understanding can be used to describe and protect Native lands.

Michael Blackstock is a professional forester, artist, and member of
the Gitxsan nation. He does not limit his investigation to tree art
alone, but also looks at the importance of trees to Native people as a
locus of supernatural power. His approach is to take the reader on a
walk through the forest of academic literature, the forest of the
imagination and art, and the actual forest with a view toward
understanding the meaning of tree art. Part of the walk includes visits
to Aboriginal elders and to actual sites containing tree art, mostly in
British Columbia, the Yukon, and Manitoba.

Blackstock concludes that tree art is a landscape marker that
symbolizes the relations between people and the land. He advocates that
current definitions of culturally modified trees, which are used in land
claims and negotiations involving forestry practices in Aboriginal
territory, be expanded to what he calls “Trees of Aboriginal
Interest.” In this way, trees of sacred and medicinal value would also
be protected from forestry practices.

The author has evidently read widely and cites extensively from his
research. As an academic reference to important source material and
commentary from elders, the book is an extremely valuable contribution.
However, it reads more like a thesis than like a book and, therefore,
may appeal more to advanced students of Native culture than to those
with a casual interest.


Blackstock, Michael D., “Faces in the Forest: First Nations Art Created on Living Trees,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 30, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/9640.