Meet the man who drew nearly 30 hours of caribou hearings

Sam Bradd produces ‘graphic recordings’ of conferences and hearings across Canada

Posted: January 28, 2020

Sam Bradd produced 'graphic recordings' of over 30 hours of hearings on caribou harvest management in the N.W.T.'s Sahtu region. (John Last/CBC)

They're probably the coolest-looking conference notes you'll ever read.

In one, swooping lines pour forth from a map, morph into caribou and encircle a Dene drummer. Beneath them are the words: "It is more than a map, it is nature itself."

In another, the shores of Great Bear Lake, N.W.T., run beneath a ribbon of words, imploring the reader to "reconnect with the land."


These notes are the work of graphic artist Sam Bradd. Called "graphic recordings," the notes summarize three days of presentations on caribou harvest management in Colville Lake, N.W.T., organized by the Sahtu Renewable Resources Board.

"We're trying to create a visual record," said Bradd. "This is a type of witnessing."

Bradd's company, Drawing Change, employs five illustrators, including himself, who work across Canada producing visual records for conferences, board meetings, and public hearings.

The results are frequently included in reports or displayed in company headquarters. One of Bradd's drawings was even given legal weight as a memorandum of understanding.

Bradd's records needed to be able to accommodate both the technical charts and graphs of territorial biologists and the deeply emotional tales of elders. (John Last/CBC)

At the Colville Lake hearings, Bradd spent nearly 30 hours drawing, redrawing and amending, using only markers and chalk. He prepared by reading the presentations in advance, and practising his drawings of caribou.


"At the start, I was told my caribou looked like moose," he said.

Bradd's records needed to be able to accommodate both the technical charts and graphs of territorial biologists and the deeply personal accounts of elders.

"Sometimes it's a very in the head and cognitive approach, and sometimes it's more in the heart," he said.

Bradd’s company, Drawing Change, employs four illustrators who work across Canada producing visual records for conferences, board meetings, and public hearings. (John Last/CBC)

At the end of the hearings, speakers were given time to review the drawings, and suggest any amendments.

After reviewing his notes on Colville Lake's local management plan, David Codzi, who helped present the plan, suggested he reflect that the "old ways" mentioned by elders are not a thing of the past.

Bradd added a bullet point reading, "OUR WAYS ARE ALIVE — and MODERN today!"


Bradd's tools are pretty minimal, he said — just markers, chalk, and a bit of creativity. (John Last/CBC)

Bradd's work made an impact on Ethel Blondin-Andrew, who represented the Indigenous Leadership Initiative at the hearings.

"This form of communication works," she said. "Anyone could pick it up and look at the story of Deline, or [the] Sahtu."

Blondin-Andrew suggested the Sahtu Renewable Resources Board include the drawings in their reporting on the hearings, and in educational materials for hunters and youth.

"Our presentation was a complex topic, and Sam got it. If he got it, then the Dene people have it," she said.

Bradd said he hopes his work helps share what was said in the hearings with those who weren't able to attend.


He also hopes his images inspire people to reflect.

"Art can heal us," he said. "I think art is a way into deeper conversation."

Take a look at all of Bradd's notes from the session below.

Bradd's first visual recording was of opening remarks, which set out the terms for the public listening session. (Sam Bradd/Drawing Change)
Bradd's notes from Colville Lake's presentation at the hearings detail the community's local management plan. (Sam Bradd/Drawing Change)
Notes from Deline's panel focus mostly on their local management plan, but Bradd also included allusions to stories told by elders throughout the presentation. (Sam Bradd/Drawing Change)
The visual recording of Fort Good Hope's presentation at the hearing includes notes from a panel of elders. (Sam Bradd/Drawing Change)
Communities from across the Sahtu presented on their approach to harvest management. Bradd produced separate notes for each one. (Sam Bradd/Drawing Change)
Bradd's visual recording of Tulita's presentation identifies some of the threats to caribou. (Sam Bradd/Drawing Change)
These notes cover a presentation from the territorial government that lasted more than five hours. (Sam Bradd/Drawing Change)
Bradd tried to make use of Indigenous languages in his notes where possible, like in these notes from the Indigenous Leadership Initiative's presentation. (Sam Bradd/Drawing Change)
Bradd's notes from the Sahtu Youth Network highlights their strongest statements.
Bradd's notes had to capture both stories and highly technical data, like a presentation from the Sahtu Harvest Study on their research methods. (Sam Bradd/Drawing Change)
Bradd also captured presentations by delegates from the Tlicho region and the Inuvialuit Game Council. (Sam Bradd/Drawing Change)