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I was born in Fort Simpson but my people call it Liidlii Kue. In the same way that I have a powerful connection to the traditional stories passed down from my ancestors, I connect with others to share those stories. I think this sharing is so important – not only to Dene people, but also people from other cultures that want to be educated. Creating awareness of culture is crucial to who we are as human beings.
My mother taught me the tradition of the dolls. At first, it was to ensure my sister and I learned the art of sewing. Once we knew the patterns for dolls, we scaled up to garments for people. Even now I use raw traditional materials like tanned moose and caribou hide when making dolls so the spirit of the animals can flow into the dolls.
My dolls are quite the world travelers. They have been sold internationally and I consider them contemporary parts of history. I think no matter someone’s culture, these works of art can help with reflection and the ability to be creative.
I currently live in Yellowknife, NT. But will always consider Fort Simpson my home. My work keeps me in Yellowknife but on my breaks I travel to be with family and friends in Fort Simpson. I’ve been an artist most of my life, but for the sake of these questions, I’d have to say I’ve being doing this for at least twenty years. I’ve worked on all kinds of projects such as On-land Healing Programs, Drum Making Workshops with Elders/Healers, Traditional Sled Making Workshops, Sewing and Spirit Guide Do’lea Making Workshops.
I get my inspiration for Doll making from my parents, from all the stories and legends that they instilled in me. Their Traditional Dene Teaching Techniques were amazing and magical, the stories they told were messages that were pasted down for hundreds of years. I wanted to honour my father Fred Tsetso, my mother Mary Tsetso and all the Elders that took the time to share their stories with me.
My accomplishments as an artist are difficult to measure because I use the dolls for Healing Workshops and to teach the Traditional Dene Rites of Passage. And the only way I can measure my success is by watching the participants that attend my workshops learn to live what they’ve learned. A side from that, I’ve traveled all over the North and Alberta teaching people how to do miniature size garment designing and pattern drafting for the Traditional Dene Dolls. And now the Dolls are being used once again for teaching our people, the bonus is that now there is a market and demand for the dolls.
I’ve sold my own Dolls to people from different parts of the world, mostly to private collectors from Canada, the United States and Germany.