Known for using the study of ethnobotany in their work, T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss is an interdisciplinary artist and community educator based out of Vancouver, British Columbia. The practice of ethnobotany consists of studying plants that are Indigenous to the land and the way they have been historically used by the people who inhabit it.
Being of Skwxwu7mesh (Squamish), Sto: lo, Hawaiian and Swiss descent, Wyss uses this discipline in their ongoing project, x̱aw̓s shew̓áy̓ New Growth《新生林》. First installed in 2019 and set to run until 2025, the artwork acts as a means of reconnecting the city to its original use of the land pre-colonization.
“The Eurocentric model of land management that dominates in the West today needs some unlearning,” according to Wyss. “It designs and maintains landscapes for the enjoyment of people, in service of an extractive economy, and most often at the expense of other species, ” Wyss added.
The city of Vancouver is currently situated on unceded territory - meaning that it was taken without the legal consent of the Indigenous people who were previously there. This project is quite literally a means of taking back the land in an effort to restore pre-contact ways of living in relationship with it and its ecosystems. The project is a formerly vacant lot that has been transformed into a public garden of plants and flora indigenous to Vancouver, which was originally inhabited by the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations.
The garden's site plan has been carefully aligned with traditional Coast Salish symbolism and design. The plant beds have been intentionally shaped into ovals, crescents, and triangles, which are frequently found in Coastal Salish art and design. These design elements serve as distinctive visual symbols that bring together the various Coastal Salish nations along the West Coast.
This thematic incorporation of elements that unite the Coast Salish people mirrors the unifying nature of the project's location—the Georgia Street Viaduct in Chinatown. This area is significant as it has been a space where Indigenous peoples, Chinese Canadians, and members of the African diasporic community have all endured cultural, class, and economic challenges, as noted by Wyss.
A facet of using the practice of ethnobotany and gardening in her art includes the use of permaculture. This refers to a purposeful design of systems that are meant to simulate naturally occurring ecosystems. Permaculture often relies on three ethical rules to be considered consciously done: earth care, people care and fair share. In the case of New Growth, all three of these principles are being met by virtue of the intended purpose of the garden, which is to decolonize land use by providing a public source of education, community and sustenance.
Ethnobotanists like Wyss and their work done to encourage the utilization of public gardens and native flora are essential to achieving this goal. The restoration of natural ecosystems done by the practice of permaculture and motivated by educating settlers on how the land was used pre-colonization (especially in highly urbanized cities) ensures a foundation of decolonizing the ways in which we use the land in the West for future generations to come.