Ashley Okrainec

Fort Simpson
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Artist Story

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t make art. I’ve always had a creative mind and carried a craft bag with me! I try to create anything that I want or need. Making my artwork makes me feel connected to my culture. I get inspired from my time out on the land. When I gather my materials, I always give thanks and I always make sure to know where they came from.

I started selling jewelry in 2015 in order to make a little extra income to pay for my studies at Aurora College in Inuvik. I was collecting traditional materials such as porcupine quills, moosehide, and fur, to make 30 sets of earrings as gifts. People loved them and wanted to buy them, so I made more!  Now I have two sought out styles of earrings, made with moosehide and .22-shells.

Making artwork is very relaxing for me, almost like meditating. Turning my ideas into actions becomes an escape from everything else. As part of my journey, I took a two-week mentorship with Dene Nahjo, where I learned how to tan caribou hides outside of Whatì with Tłı̨chǫ Elders. My mother learned to tan moosehides from Elders in the Dehcho, and that is a strong connection that I cherish with my mother and the region I grew up in. Not to long ago, I moved to Inuvik to be closer to my late grandmother’s land and my Gwich’in heritage and culture. My grandfather was born in Aklavik, and I am slowly learning about my family connections here in the Beaufort Delta. I spend as much time with my grandmother’s sisters as I can.

I have some of my mother’s moosehides and to honour her, I intertwine a little piece in most of the art I create. I know the moosehide she prepared is the result of at least four weeks of hard work and years and years of effort to learn that skill in a traditional way. This means that there is a connection to everyone who has carried on this tradition and who has taught that process since time immemorial.

I also greatly respect the animals that make all this possible in the first place. I consciously integrate all of that when I’m making my art. It’s such a delicate and fierce thing in the end. When I create, I am putting all of my energy into that piece of art. When I sell my jewelry, I pass all of that to the person who will own and wear that art piece.

Artist Bio: 

Ashley was born in Yellowknife, and raised in Fort Simpson. From a young age she has lived fort short periods of time in Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Hay River, Inuvik and has now settled back in Fort Simpson. She sells her art at markets and fairs in Inuvik and Fort Simpson, in some shops in other areas, as well as online through Instagram and Facebook.  Ashley wants to continue learning about hide tanning and improve her skills. While the future remains fluid to her, she’s know for certain that her passion for traditional art making is not just a hobby, and that she will continue making art from here on out.

Last Updated: October 13, 2022

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