Jessica DeLeary

North Slave

Artist Story

Even though I grew up in Ottawa, I’ve always felt a deep connection to the North. My dad is Ojibwe from the Bkejwanong First Nation in the Walpole Island area and my mom is a Yellowknives Dene First Nation member from Dettah. We’d frequently visit my dad’s reserve in southern Ontario and we’d usually come up North on a yearly basis. In my early twenties, I booked a last minute ticket to Yellowknife and decided this was where I wanted to live.

I’ve been beading moccasin uppers for as long as I can remember. During my trips up North, I would sit with my grandma who was always beading, sewing and making items for her kids and grandkids. I started helping her by beading uppers. Then my auntie would send me more to bead while I was in Ottawa. I really got into it when I was around 11 years old. I was going through a transition of my own at that age and I was really focused on connecting to my Dene roots.

I started making earrings more recently. I was part of the Indigenous Language Revitalization certificate program offered through Aurora College. In my cohort, the ladies were always sewing in class because it helped them focus, so I started bringing my own beading projects as well. One day, I asked one of my classmates to show me the brick stitch technique for earrings and I picked it up from there.

I really enjoy designing and making earrings, especially the creative freedom to pick and choose colour combinations. I draw inspiration from both my northern Dene and southern Ojibwe heritages and create my own style of flowers. The Dene flowers are really round, soft and bright, whereas the Ojibwe flowers are blockier and sharper. I’d love to add Ojibwe flowers on northern style moccasins or mukluks!

Growing up in Ottawa I was always the Indigenous kid in the classroom. I felt like an outsider. I’ve always wanted to live up North to reconnect with my traditional Dene lifestyle and reclaim my language. I’ve found that being on the land is the best way to be immersed in my culture. It connects me to my Ancestors and to their traditional ways of living. That’s why I’m starting to turn my focus towards harvesting my own hides and furs. My spouse was raised by his grandparents and I’m fortunate that he’s passing on some of his traditional knowledge to me with a lot of patience. I want to learn it all!

Artist Bio: 

Jessica has been living in Dettah since 2008. Born and raised in Ottawa, she is now calling the North her home.  An avid learner and artist, Jessica is constantly practicing skills and crafts that she learned from many different people over the years. She is especially fond of making beaded earrings, a practice that allows her to explore both her Ojibwe and Dene roots. Continuously expanding her skills, she made beaver fur mitts for all four of her kids. In September of 2020, Jessica participated in the Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning program. She spent time on the land learning about traditional methods, including how to harvest birchbark to make canoes, a practice she intends on pursuing.


Last Updated: March 26, 2021

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