Lucy Ann Yakeleya

North Slave

Artist Story

My family used to live in the traditional ways while I was growing up, especially when we lived in Colville Lake because it was more isolated.  I learned to sew, bead and make my own patterns by watching my mother and older sisters work on their craft. I was eleven years old when I sold my first piece, even though it looked pretty rough!

Back then, traditional clothing was made in part out of necessity for our daily lives. Women would create things that were practical, and at the same time, found joy in adding embellishments to make them beautiful. Before beads and embroidery threads were accessible, porcupine quills were used.

All those art forms were a way for women to express their creativity, which they would show at Christmas, Easter or other big events such as community gatherings. Regular clothes were usually plain with a few accents, because they were made for working, but during those special occasions we would wear our finest outfits, parkas, mitts and shoes. Everything was so well made and we could really enjoy the women’s sewing talent in those moments!

I really enjoy making babiche bags, which were traditionally used to carry small game. The bags are a long process. I usually work on the top banner first with beadwork or quillwork, and then slowly and evenly cut the lace out of caribou hide with scissors for the knitting part. Once the looping part is done, I add the straps, fringes and other embellishments. I learned how to sew with quills in 1997 during a weeklong workshop in Fort Simpson from three ladies of the Dehcho, and later that year at a different workshop, I learned to make the netted bags. I have been using these traditional skills ever since.

I get my inspiration from everywhere I go: colours, shapes, flowers, as well as other people’s work. If I see a design that is really well drawn, I will be motivated to bead it or embroider it right away. When I first started, I used to have a small collection of beads. Now, I buy beads from all over and have the liberty to play with many colours in my designs as they evolve. Sometimes, that means that the final product is completely different than what I thought it would be in the beginning, but I absolutely love to see how it all comes together in the end.

When I don’t work on my art for a long time, I notice that I feel out of sorts – and I feel good in my heart and spirit when I start creating again. Artistic talent runs in my blood and is a central part of my life. My mom used to say that when these types of skills run in the family, you don’t necessarily have to be taught, it’s already within you. One of my granddaughters has taken an interest and is working on a pair of uppers for moccasins – I was so happy about that! My daughter has been making earrings for years and she’s expanded to the traditional beadwork now, which is really beautiful. I am so proud to have passed on some of my knowledge to the next generations.

Artist Bio: 

Lucy Yakeleya was born in Fort Good Hope. She grew up there and Colville Lake along with several years in Residential School in Inuvik. She now lives and works in Yellowknife. The distinct shapes, colours, patterns and small beads used in Lucy’s artwork are a reflection of the influence she picked up from her family and from the Sahtu region. Most of Lucy’s siblings are also involved in the arts in the Sahtu to this day. In the past, Lucy sold her artwork in order to make extra income, which then gradually turned into a fulfilling hobby. She stills sells her art, but she loves to create pieces for herself and her family the most. Through the years, Lucy has shared her skills with students in schools and has passed on the tradition of hide tanning at the Dene Nahjo camp.

Last Updated: May 25, 2023

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