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Photo credit: Dana Prieto


Inspired by his encounters with butterflies and their connection to medicine plants and healing, the late Mi’kmaq artist Mike MacDonald created pollinator gardens as spaces of care and coexistence. With tender attentiveness to the land and its inhabitants, MacDonald began planting these gardens of Indigenous flora across Turtle Island from 1994-2003. He also created a series of accompanying video works using his documentation of the gardens and their butterflies. [1]

While documenting an area threatened by clear-cut logging on a mountain range near Kitwanga, B.C., MacDonald noticed the widespread presence of butterflies. He took photos of the pollinators and showed them to an elder who explained the connections between butterflies, medicine plants and healing.

MacDonald witnessed how resource extraction threatens Indigenous communities and also the pollinators, and began planting medicine and butterfly gardens across the country, creating places that called for contemplation of human connection with all living things.

MacDonald’s gardens restore the land by reintroducing native plants to altered sites. His work highlights not only the fact that land cannot be separated from human lives, economies, industries and actions, but also that it is resilient.

Since MacDonald’s observations in the late 1980s, the decline of pollinators has become a mainstream environmental issue with intense public interest. Dramatic losses of butterfly and bee species have been documented in Canada and have raised concerns about potential economic and ecological impacts of losing the ecosystem services these insects provide.

Documented threats to pollinators in Canada include climate change, pesticide use, habitat loss, and disease introduction. The threats differ across species and across regions, but a common root cause is growth of various extractive industries, industrial farming and urbanization, all at the expense of nature.

While extensive media coverage, public concern, political will and resources have been directed to conserving bees and other pollinators, the reality remains that insect species continue to decline.

It is becoming painstakingly clear that addressing core issues with respect to Indigenous land stewardship, resource extraction and corporate interests remain critical to addressing large-scale environmental concerns such pollinator loss in Canada and beyond. [2]


[1]      “Mike MacDonald’s Butterfly Garden Revisited.” MSVU Art Gallery, July 29, 2021. https://www.msvuart.ca/exhibition/lisa-myers-mike-macdonalds-butterfly-garden-revisited/.

[2]       Colla, Sheila, Dana Prieto, and Lisa Myers. “How WET’SUWET’EN Butterflies Offer Lessons in Resilience and Resistance.” The Conversation, March 2, 2020. https://theconversation.com/how-wetsuweten-butterflies-offer-lessons-in-resilience-and-resistance-132418.

Additional information:

“Artist: Mike MacDonald.” Vtape. Accessed August 16, 2021. https://vtape.org/artist?ai=50.

“Digital Garden.” MSVU Art Gallery, August 16, 2019. https://www.msvuart.ca/exhibition/digital-garden/.

“Finding Flowers.” NCC. Accessed August 16, 2021. https://www.natureconservancy.ca/en/who-we-are/publications/magazine/spring-2020/finding-flowers.html.

“Genius Loci.” Art Gallery of Alberta. Accessed August 16, 2021. https://www.youraga.ca/events-features/calendar/agalive-mike-macdonalds-butterfly-garden-panel-discussion.

Svegh. “Mike MacDonald: Planting One Another.” Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, May 14, 2019. https://kwag.ca/content/mike-macdonald-planting-one-another.

Tousley, Nancy. “Curator Tends Artists Butterfly Garden.” PressReader.com – digital newspaper & magazine subscriptions. Calgary Herald, July 22, 2010. https://www.pressreader.com/canada/calgary-herald/20100722/291692704924420.

Project Title: The Butterfly and Medicine Garden
Artists: Mike MacDonald
Year: 1994-2003 (construction)

Place: Various locations

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