The Importance of Language in Caring for Nature

Text and artwork by Colleen Corrigan

Both a scientist and an artist, Colleen Corrigan embodies the spirit of the theme for our next issue of Langscape: “Through a Different Lens: The Art and Science of Biocultural Diversity.”

As a scientist, Colleen has been working with four Aboriginal tribes that are the Traditional Owners of the central Queensland coast, in eastern Australia, where freshwater and saltwater are equally important. Her research, which seeks to integrate measures of effectiveness of Indigenous land and sea management, reveals the fundamental significance of language for Aboriginal peoples. From an Aboriginal point of view, if you don't have your native language, you cannot describe Country; if you cannot describe Country, you have no connection with it. That connection is the essence of identity for Aboriginals (and, arguably, for humanity at large). A powerful message emerges from Colleen’s research: the issues these Aboriginal communities are struggling with are in essence issues of identity; and language rooted in Country is crucial to keeping and rekindling that identity.

Colleen is not content with just the written word, though. As an artist, she never travels without her watercolor sketchbook. She takes it with her and uses it whenever she is in community. While usually sketching scenes of nature only and not people, she always captures a different sense of the experience—a sense that brings us closer, through a different lens, to the feeling of place that’s so deeply embedded in the Aboriginal soul.