I design contemporary, northern indigenous adornments based on Gwich’in culture, created with land-based materials. I make these adornments with my people in mind so that by wearing my works they will feel connected to our ancestors, our land, and our culture. As recently as the latter part of the 19th Century, we were stripped of our adornments through colonization. Before this time we lived nomadically, dependent on the caribou. I use techniques that have been used for centuries in the design of clothing and tools, in a modern context. By using materials from the land, my audience connects to a deeper respect for the land and animals that provide for us. I use techniques that have been passed down to me and some that I have learned, such as chasing and repoussé. Art is central to creating an evolving, northern indigenous aesthetic that we can pair with our grandparents’ traditional clothing, reclaiming and revitalizing these traditional pieces in a contemporary fashion.
My studio practice starts on the land and the process is very important to me. Most of the materials I use have been harvested from nature through subsistence hunting, in which the moose, the muskox or the caribou meat is shared in the community. I use the skin, brains, and a leg bone to brain-tan the hide. This process requires a lot of physical work that takes about three weeks. Once the hide is finished, I create a pattern that is based on traditional techniques and designs passed down through generations in our Gwich’in tribe. I use antique and vintage beads to decorate the hide, creating colorful and intricate designs. The moose or caribou hair is cleaned and dyed before being tied down on hide to create a tuft. Finally, I use the horns and antlers, cutting, shaping and polishing them for my jewelry. I combine these natural elements with silver, gold and diamonds to create a striking contrast of textures, colour and materials. We are taught to use every part of the animal when we hunt, wasting nothing. It is crucial for me to incorporate this part of my culture in my studio practice and the artwork I create.