Karen Wright-Fraser

North Slave
Primary Art Type: 

Artist Story

Creating art makes me feel alive and it connects me to my Gwich’in roots in many ways. I do a lot of research on our culture and I try to incorporate some of those traditional techniques into my art and my storytelling. I am always expending my knowledge about traditional ways of being and I love to practice new skills.

My creativity always starts from my heart. The first item I ever made was a small wall hanging when I was expecting my first child. I beaded the word “baby” and added a flower and a tree. I have kept sewing ever since, making a wide variety of work such as dream catchers, bone and antler jewelry, traditional dresses, moccasins, vests, mitts, and so on.

I am passionate about sharing stories. I did a residency in Banff with Indigenous storytellers. I also took part in a workshop with the Around Town Storytellers based in Nanaimo. I mostly share traditional stories, but I also love to share my own personal narratives. All these stories exist in my head and in my heart. Everyone knows that I keep threatening to write a book, but I feel like I have to share the stories first, preferably on stage.

What I love the most about storytelling and making art is that it allows me to connect with people. I’m especially inspired by our younger generation. I want young people to feel good about who they are and about their culture - which is why I want to empower them on their journey. I teach them how to make moccasins or how to bead, and they are amazed that they could learn these skills - that makes me so happy.

Looking ahead, I am really excited to finally be able to learn how to tan moosehides. It makes me sad that it took me close to 60 years to get here, because in the past, our people would teach this knowledge to young women. Back then, they had to learn these important survival skills. With the arrival of residential schools, our ways of being were severed. It was just cut right out of the equation. It’s frustrating when I think about that, because I’ve always wanted to learn about those essential parts of my culture.

Making up for lost time, I’m also learning how to make fish skin leather. I’ve learned the basic process through online classes from someone living in Alaska, and I am now on my own journey to learn as much as I can about how our Gwich’in ancestors used those techniques. You can sometimes find me at seven in the morning working on fish skins; that’s how excited I am about this process! I plan on using this beautiful leather to make moccasins, bracelets, earrings, hats, and more. I am truly overjoyed to now have the time to do everything that I love the most.

Artist Bio: 

Karen Wright-Fraser was born in Inuvik, but has called Yellowknife home for more than 30 years. Mainly self-taught, Karen carries on her Gwich'in tradition by using hides, furs, beads and bones, combining contemporary with traditional styles to create a large repertoire of items. Her dreams and imagination provide her with many ideas for colours, shapes, materials and designs. She feels a real sense of accomplishment when she finishes a piece and other people are happy with what she has made. Pulling her inspiration from her grandmothers and a multitude of Indigenous role models and mentors, Karen continues to share her knowledge with younger generations interested in reconnecting with their traditions.

Last Updated: May 25, 2023

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