Friday, February 24, 2017

Canada 150: Not Just Beaver Tails & Puck Bunnies

In the past year, I've been working in educational settings a lot more. Various age groups, various projects, various residencies relating to Metis arts, Canadian history or themes on reconciliation. Although I had some teaching experience, it is quite a different challenge to be standing in front of an audience in a classroom or a theatre that is eagerly awaiting a talk about stuff that is much more personal than teaching how to colour correct a beer can in Photoshop. Sometimes it's difficult and painful but I keep doing it because it is enjoyable to connect with so many people in an open yet largely safe forum. Schools are meant for safe discourse after all. Yet, more than anything else, I keep doing it because I just can't seem to get over being lied to throughout my whole student career.
We were ALL lied to.
As I retreat to my studio in solitude on the days when I'm not running a workshop or doing a talk, I try to reflect on why I'm still so angry about it but the fact of the matter is I do know why. I’m angry because I almost lost my culture. I’m angry because I’ve been forced to assimilate. I’m angry because I’ve been working so hard to find my own identity all these years while facing the reality that I will still never be accepted as who I am by some. I’m angry because while I was lucky to be sitting in classrooms being “shaped into an ideal female citizen” others (some of them kin) were being oppressed simply because those who were brainwashing me wanted everything from those they were oppressing. I’m angry because I protested vehemently against Apartheid in my youth to the point of almost being kicked out of school but never knew until just a few years ago that the regime was actually a Canadian invention! I’m angry because the doctrine I was being force-fed to accept as being the only true, fair, pure and just way of living was also actively supporting those who were doing everything they could to conquer the original inhabitants who had helped them survive in the “new world” only a few years previous. AND it’s still happening today in Canada! It’s just evolved into a different form.
My conclusion during these times of reflection is always to channel the anger, to do my part to help reconciliation by not only telling the truth about Canadian history but by helping to find ways forward. There has to be balance. It's one of the reasons why I created the Reconciliation 150 tshirts and student award. It's another reason why I chose to continue doing design and illustration work for orgs like the Elementary Teacher's Federation of Ontario and Nelson Education -- because they are also actively trying to create accurate, responsible and respectful content for students who need to learn about Canada’s true history. It’s also a reason why I tell kids the true meaning of the song “Ani Kuni” when we sing it and the real reason why we don’t use our arms when we dance a jig. It’s why I will always be welcoming to any person, young or old, who finds the courage to ask questions. At the same time, I continue to create my art showing the positive aspects of my personal experience because there really is a lot to be celebrated. I want people to know the good stuff too.
Thankfully, there are so many researchers and academics who are now working diligently to right the wrongs of the past. Here’s a shout out to all the usually unsung heroes who have been working so hard to rewrite Canada’s history. Dr. Olive Dickason, Arthur Ray, Jacqueline Peterson, JenniferS. H. Brown, Sebastien Malette, Sherry Ferrell Racette and Kim Anderson, just to name a few. There are so many more hardworking researchers out there but these are the academic authors whose work I’ve referred to over again to help guide me in my own work. They are the ones sifting through and documenting the evidence. Their work will help us all find a way toward reconciliation. Their work is what is helping me find ways to disseminate my own truth, to find myself and reconnect with a past I thought would never be found. Unbeknownst to them, they are part of my “team” in my quest toward truth-driven education. I am grateful to them and all those who are on the same path.
Upwards and onwards!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Moccushions© and Trapper Hats

The Metis are the first Canadians – meaning the hybrid people created from the unions of First Nations and the initial immigrant Europeans settlers. The Metis evolved into a distinct, thriving indigenous people. During Canada’s fur trade period, the Metis women would bead articles for sale to participate in their household economy. Items beaded ranged from saddle bags and gun holsters to coats, mitts or moccasins.

Moccushions - Little Red Riding Hood Re-interpreted

Despite the prolific popularity of these beaded items, they were never attributed to Metis women at the time. Reasons for this include the market demand for authentic items from "real Indians" (the Metis were not yet recognized as an indigenous group), and Metis families who were trying to blend in to a largely racist settlement society did not want to be found out as being of mixed blood by European community members or even the local Indian Agent.

Trapper Hat - Canadian Shield

The traditional Metis design style is distinct. It is a blend of early First Nations geometric beading and highly detailed European floral designs. The mix evolved into a very stylized, colourful floral design. Due to the range of items that Metis women beaded, they popularly became known as the “Flower Beadwork People”. The distinctive Métis art, which is the blending of First Nations and European art forms into a new art form, is considered the first Canadian art form.
The piece shown above, the Moccushion, is a pillow (or cushion) but its construction is based on the traditional Metis-style moccasin. Materials used for the Moccushion are also common to the moccasin. Leather, fur, Melton wool and beads are used to handcraft the piece. The beadwork that makes moccasins so distinctive is used to decorate this hybrid cushion but is also used to symbolize a certain story or theme. The Trapper Hat (shown left) is based on the traditional construction of the type of headgear that was worn by Metis Voyageurs but redefined to suit a modern market. Beadwork has been added to the top of the hat thus turning into the wearer’s crown of sorts. Just as with the Moccushion, the beadwork is inspired by a theme or some aspect from the wearer’s personality.

Source:  “The New Peoples: Being and Becoming Métis in North America”, edited by Jacqueline Peterson and Jennifer S. H. Brown, The University of Manitoba Press, 1985, ISBN: 0-88755-617-5.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Student projects

Every once in a while I'm contacted by a teacher or parent of a student asking if it would be OK for them to contact me so they can do a school project about me and my art. I'm always surprised and flattered by this. I love helping students with their education so this is a real treat for me. Sometimes the students are doing essays (especially in the higher grades). The younger ones usually do artwork. I'm thrilled when they send me copies or photos of the work they've done so I had to share a couple of the recent ones I've received this year.

The Postcard Project was done over a period of a couple of months. The idea is that a student choses a picture from a selection of various locals artists (which the teacher has prearranged with the artists). The student then creates an image in response and sends it in post card format to the artist. The artist then creates a post card size response to the student.

This year's Postcard Project to help teach about residential school. Having never been to residential school, I could only send in an image of what going to a catholic school felt like to me (which I explained to the teacher beforehand). So I sent in the image with a little trepidation but, ultimately, I think the artful conversation was thoughtful and genuine. I love the whole concept behind the Postcard Project. It doesn't take a lot of time or expense and I believe it does a great job connecting kids to the language of art.

This photo shows the painting that was studied by a grade 2 student for art class. She chose to study one of my landscapes entitled "I can hear my heart beating in the still morning sun" (2014, oil/canvas). On the right is her interpretation of the piece. :)

Monday, November 23, 2015

I Will Not Give You My Hate

This latest piece is something I needed to get out of my system. Technically, this isn't my best piece. I just wanted to get an image out. In any event, you get the idea. I don't really even know what to say about it anymore...

"I Will Not Give You My Hate"
20" x 10", oil on canvas

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Thoughts From the Blind

I think about death a lot. Not because I’m rushing to get there or out of fear. But it’s something that all living beings face at some point. It’s also likely because I hunt that death is often top of mind.

Before I left for the first hunt of the season, the Syrian conflict was hitting mass media. The photo of a drowned young Syrian boy reflected in my mind for days. Even as I sat there in the woods, no one around but me, a couple of chipmunks and a squirrel, the image of that young boy represented all the things that are wrong with humanity. In the days following, I learned a respected community member and arts advocate had suddenly died. I was shocked at the news even though I didn’t know her all that well. But we’d had a discussion once about the demise of the Beothuks. I was impressed with her knowledge of indigenous culture and her empathy towards this group that suffered genocide at the hands of European settlers. I was immediately reminded of the lengths humans will go to for what they want.
And yet, here I was, waiting for a bear to show up to kill it so I could continue to live. The conflict is undeniable.
Death Mask of a Bear, 2015
12"x12", Acrylic, Gallery Canvas
For me, the value of a life is the same regardless if it’s for a human or non-human animal. I don’t consider myself on any rung of some food chain. I’m simply a part of the ecosystem I live in. However, all through school and even in university, we’re taught about hierarchies. It’s embedded in our psyches that humans are at the top of a pyramid, and some humans are close to divine. I’ve found that this concept is especially held by people who believe in some sort of god, regardless of religion. I wondered if maybe that was the problem. Not so much the belief in god but this idea of hierarchy and “food chains”.
It’s impossible for me to have an objective opinion on all this. Aside from thinking of myself as an active player in my environment, I also don’t believe in god or any kind of creator or spirit realm. I believe in the laws of thermodynamics (1 & 2) and that, when it’s my time to die, my body will become a part of the ecosystem I’m buried in. I don’t think anyone can really have an objective opinion when it comes to religion, beliefs, politics, life or death either. It’s just too close to us. That said when do we collectively stop to ask ourselves what the hell we’re doing to each other in the name of humanity? Where is the fine line between fear and offense?

Ultimately, we’re killing each other for our beliefs. We’re killing each other so we can have our idea of a better life (or rest ourselves assured that is the goal). We’re killing each other out of fear, rejection, revenge, greed, or some other perverse desire to rid ourselves of each other so we could ultimately gain from the death of others. When you stop to put that in perspective, isn’t that what we’re also doing with the environment? We’re destroying land and rivers and air so we can have a few more conveniences. You simply have to look at the bags and bins piled up along a suburban street on garbage day as proof that conveniences are top of mind for most of us. The thing of it is, we’re not really killing mother earth. We’re killing ourselves.
I’ll be the first person to say that there are just too many people on the planet for my liking, that the earth would do well without us and that humans are really just a virus. (There’s proof in our DNA that we’re born of virus.) As much as I would prefer to live in the woods, off the land and never see another city, hear another political promise, or learn of another human-created disaster, I realize that there are other people who share this planet and who have just as much right to live in peace as I do. As much as I would rather people have the ability to thrive in their own countries, I also recognize that my moral compass includes empathy toward my fellow humans.  And even though I have my own cultural ties and preferences, I believe that others have every right to explore the cultural practices they were born in or exposed to.
The piece associated to this stream of thought is “Death Mask of a Bear”. The concept is based on old world practices of creating death masks of those who’ve departed, to keep them and their memory alive. It is adorned with Metis style floral embroidery designs. It was created in honour of the bear we recently hunted, to keep its memory alive even after we’ve finished consuming it for our continued existence.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What I Learned From A Wood Duck

As part of my quest to take responsibility for my food sources and eat a more traditional diet, I spend a few days’ duck hunting in the fall. This year, I shot a Wood Duck that had a band on its leg. It’s my first banded bird ever. Wood Ducks are all special, beautiful birds but what this band represents is something that we cannot get anywhere else: actual details about the duck’s life. I couldn’t wait to report it and find out anything I could.

The little 1 and a half pound male duck was hatched and banded in South Carolina and flew a 1600km migration each way (twice a year) for the five years of his life. Because of banding, science has learned so much about species populations and so it is understood that, 75% of the time, ducks will come back to the same breeding and wintering grounds each year. It’s fairly safe to say that this little Wood Duck probably loved my favourite marsh as much, if not more, than I do.
Am I sad that I killed this duck to feed myself? For me, hunting is very emotional. The killing part is not a part I enjoy but I would much rather take the responsibility of doing it myself, knowing that it died as humanely as possible of my own hands. But I’m also very keen on knowing how the animal lived. With the help of science and the banding programs, now I know more.
I already knew that “my” marsh provides a healthy place for Wood Ducks to thrive given the population that come back each year. Even though I knew about migrations, getting information from that little band really drives home the kinds of distances these ducks go to. It reinforces the very real importance of wetlands and other habitat all along the flyways. It greatly opens up my appreciation for the life I took in order to nourish myself. That little band has given me a whole new perspective on the Wood Duck and that is something I have never found, and likely never will, from buying my meat in a grocery store. I am thankful there is still a bird banding program in the US. It's the kind of science that overlaps and informs us on the environment and so much more.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Royal Canadian Mint Unveils Northern Lights Collector Coin in Canada's North

WHITEHORSE, Aug. 24, 2015 /CNW Telbec/ - The final coin in the Royal Canadian Mint's stunning silver coin series A Story of the Northern Lights was unveiled today in Whitehorse with local community and First Nations leaders. The coin features a soaring raven set against a dazzling holographic sky lit by the northern lights.

Sandra Hanington, Royal Canadian Mint President and CEO, Ta’an Kwächä’an First Nation Chief Kristina Kane, the Honourable Elaine Taylor, Deputy Premier of the Yukon Territorial Government, and Dan Curtis, Mayor of Whitehorse, unveil the Story of the Northern Lights: The Raven $20 fine silver collector coin in Whitehorse, Yukon (CNW Group/Royal Canadian Mint)
"This new silver coin merges the old with the new, thanks to the Mint's unique achromatic hologram technology," says Sandra Hanington, President and CEO of the Royal Canadian Mint.  "Our employees have used their world-renowned expertise to bring to life two themes that have marked the experience of those who have inhabited Canada for thousands of years: the raven and the aurora borealis." 
This amazing coin is only the third achromatic hologram coin ever to be released by the Mint.  Struck into 99.99% pure silver using nanotechnology, the holographic sky lit by the northern lights makes for a truly unique reverse design. Artist Nathalie Bertin's raven image is inspired by First Nations storytelling traditions of the Pacific Northwest.
With a highly limited mintage of only 8,500 and retailing for $109.95, this coin can be ordered as of August 25 from the Mint at 1-800-267-1871 in Canada, 1-800-268-6468 in the US, or online at Starting September 1st, the coins will also be available at the Royal Canadian Mint's boutiques in Ottawa, Winnipeg and Vancouver, as well as through the Mint's global network of dealers and distributors, including participating Canada Post outlets.  
About the Royal Canadian Mint
The Royal Canadian Mint is the Crown Corporation responsible for the minting and distribution of Canada's circulation coins. An ISO 9001-2008 certified company the Mint is recognized as one of the largest and most versatile mints in the world, offering a wide range of specialized, high quality coinage products and related services on an international scale. For more information on the Mint, its products and services, visit.

SOURCE Royal Canadian Mint
Image with caption: "Sandra Hanington, Royal Canadian Mint President and CEO, Ta’an Kwächä’an First Nation Chief Kristina Kane, the Honourable Elaine Taylor, Deputy Premier of the Yukon Territorial Government, and Dan Curtis, Mayor of Whitehorse, unveil the Story of the Northern Lights: The Raven $20 fine silver collector coin in Whitehorse, Yukon (CNW Group/Royal Canadian Mint)". Image available at:

For further information: media are asked to contact: Alex Reeves, Senior Manager, Communications, Royal Canadian Mint, Telephone: 613-949-5777,