I do a lot of traditional artwork. My mother-in-law, Martine Kotchea, is the one who taught me a lot about making traditional artwork and I am very grateful for her knowledge. I observed and watched everything she did in order to learn.
I have been working on moosehides since the early 1980’s when I was in my thirties. The whole process takes 5 to 7 days of solid, committed work and a lot of patience! After all the flesh is removed from the hide and the edges are cut, it is soaked in water and placed on a frame to dry. Then we scrape it, which takes about 2 days. From there it is soaked in a solution made with moose brain or spinal cord, which softens the hide. Next the hide is smoked on the frame over a fire, and then it goes back in the solution to soak again. This happens a few times and the hide can eventually be stretched tightly until it becomes soft. At this stage, we remove the fuzzy fibres and it is ready for the final smoke. When it’s all done, I can make moccasins, mukluks, mitts and vests. I bead my own designs on the hide and each piece is special and unique. It is a lot of work but it is very rewarding.
I also learned to make birchbark baskets with quillwork around the same time. Living in Fort Liard, the birchbark and roots can be harvested from the land. It brings me such peace of mind to walk out in the bush to harvest bark and spruce roots to make my baskets. I prepare my birchbark baskets designs from templates I have been gifted or from new ones I create from my imagination. I particularly love to create my own unique contemporary designs, such as a moose standing beside a birch tree or a mountain sheep, which is different than the flowers or birds you typically see. I want to let everyone know about what we experience on the land.
Finding and preparing the porcupine quills is quite a process as well. My relatives will go out on the land to find a porcupine, which we will eat so that every part of the animal is used. I sort the quills by hand and dye them myself so they are ready to use on my baskets.
Creating art makes me feel calm and relaxed. Most of all it makes me feel proud of my accomplished work. I pass on all my traditional knowledge to my four daughters, and it makes me really proud to see what they can do. I’m especially happy that they help me with tanning moosehides, because they pull it and stretch it and wring it for me! I find that if you enjoy what you are doing, whether it’s working on a moosehide or a basket, you’ll love the process and you’ll want to complete it. All of that good energy goes into what I am making every day.