Loretta Wiley

Norman Wells
P.O. Box 113
6 Beaver Lane
Norman Wells, NT X1A 0V0

Artist Story

I’m a Gwich’in and Dene artist. My creativity is my strong suit. I always challenge myself to try anything that inspires me. I especially love to make artwork and jewelry with fish scales, beads and birchbark. I also love to work with furs, seal skin and moose hide. I make minimalist designs when I bead so that every part of the piece is highlighted.

One of my biggest inspiration is fish scaling. When I came back to the Sahtu in 2014, I went to Fort Good Hope to visit my auntie. Her daughter — Janet Grandjambe — is one of the ladies that truly inspired me. I never had an opportunity to meet her before she passed away from cancer, but her fish scale artwork really struck me. I had never seen that kind of artwork before! I plan to focus more on fish scaling as I get older. I want people to know what can be done with it, and I want to ensure that this tradition isn’t lost.

I also like to share traditional culinary teachings in my community. I offer cooking classes where I use wild berries, or moose, caribou and sheep meats. I also make a lot of traditional medicine and I teach about the various plants that I use. I teach traditional skills to anyone interested in learning. If people have the willingness to learn, I have the willingness to teach them! That’s how we preserve the teachings that were handed down by our Ancestors. I learned from my grandmother, who was taught by her aunties and grannies. Her skills were brought down to me, for me to carry on.

Making art makes me really proud of my culture. I love to look at artwork made by other Indigenous people from all over the world, but my main inspiration remains my Elders, especially my grannies. I was born and raised in Tulita, living on the land, listening to my grandmothers, watching them. To see them putting all their thoughts and energy on the process of making mukluks or tanning moose hides taught me how to be patient and humble.

Without the crafts and the teachings that I do now, I would not be here. I want to bring up the residential schools, because I’m the third generation in my family and my upbringing wasn’t easy. There was a lot of destruction. My artwork saved me from a lot of things that I didn’t know how to heal from. All this traditional knowledge, it saved my life. That’s why it’s important for me to share what I know. I feel that helping others through the work that I do is part of my journey. Everybody wants to be heard. I love to listen to people and learn about what inspires them, because that inspires me.

Creativity is healing in its own way. Everybody has their own personal healing, but for me it means to be able to express my emotions and my spirituality while I’m creating art. My artwork and teachings have turned me into a better person. Creating art taught me how to figure things out in life. It’s not just about taking a piece of moose hide and sewing on it — to me, there is a lot more healing taking place while that happens. When I sit down in a quiet place to create a pair of earrings, I am asking: “What can I do better tomorrow?” That’s what goes into my artwork and that’s why I’m so passionate about what I do.

Artist Bio: 

Loretta is originally from Tulita. She now lives, works and creates in Norman Wells. As a Gwich’in and Dene freelance artist, Loretta creates different types of artwork using beads, furs, hides, birch bark and fish scales. She loves to challenge herself to try new art forms and techniques whenever inspiration strikes. She is also passionate about listening to other people and always feels inspired by their stories. Loretta has three children and a grandson, who are her number one priority in life. She works full time and dedicates her spare time to her crafts, but she plans to focus solely on her art once she retires. The items she makes sell instantly when she shares them with friends on Facebook, but some of her beaded jewelry can sporadically be found at the Norman Wells Museum.

Last Updated: October 13, 2022

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