I’m adopted from Fort Good Hope in the Sahtu Region and grew up in Yellowknife with my family that raised me with their Metis and North Slavey Dene cultures.
For as long as I can remember, I have created visual art such as drawing and painting and went to fine arts school to further develop these skills in application. I paint in fine detail and for a long time, I didn’t know how to focus that realism approach. In 2006, my mom introduced me the traditional techniques of making fish scale and fish bone artwork, which the late Margaret Thrasher had taught her. Since starting a family in 2018, I’ve renewed my interest in this art form as a way to explore my traditional heritage and remain creative while being at home full-time.
My dad taught me about hunting and fishing and other traditional skills needed to live on the land. He taught me how and when to harvest birchbark and willows. My mom showed me where in the fish to find the bones, how to harvest them and how to put the bones together to create butterflies. They both taught us about the importance of respecting and honouring wildlife when they are harvested from the land and that nothing goes to waste. These values are ingrained in me especially when it comes to fish bone and fish scale artwork, using the fish to feed my family and create my artwork.
This art form brings me to the land and the water, which is very important for me. I was raised with traditional knowledge and culture and art. Now that I have a child of my own I have a strong calling to embrace and share this art form. I want her to grown up surrounded by all the beautiful things I was exposed to. I put all the money I make from my artwork into a piggy bank for her. I used to work with high risk youth in the Interior of BC while attending Art School, and now do fishscale art workshops with youth in Yellowknife and NDilo. I find that it’s been a helpful outlet for youth to express themselves while reconnecting and discovering a cultural tradition that brings them back to the land and water that surrounds them.
Creating art with fish bones is a discovery of my own culture, allowing me to discover my identity as a North Slavey from the Sahtu. I have a deep calling to learn more about the history of this art form. I’m seeking out elders who can tell me more about where it began so I pay respect and tribute to those roots. I’ve recently started making fish bone vertebrae earrings, which is a contemporary application on these traditional techniques. I feel it is important we continue to evolve our art forms as a way to reclaim artwork techniques.
I want to create what I want to see in the world. By discovering new ways to use parts of the fish, I create more demand to use the whole animal. We are always going to each fish, so this helps ensure more of the fish is used. I feel connected to the fish right from the time I pull it out of the water. Working with it, touching the bones, cleaning the bones, painting the arranging the bones, eating the fish… it all contributes to my connection with nature and with my culture. When we combine those things with what we have inside ourselves to give, our culture is revived through us.