My research looks at the history of migration and material culture of the Na-Dene (Northern Athapaskan people) of the Northern Canada and Alaska. I am interested in Indigenous stories related to copper and copper use. I also enjoy exploring contemporary values of bush culture still practiced today, a value found in the sharing of technology, knowledge, and landscapes. I never saw myself as an artist until I took some studio classes at the University of Lethbridge. As part of my program, it forced me to look at what I was interested in verses, what I wanted to say about myself. I knew I was interested in the history of identity, but I had to look deeper to find the story to create my pieces. I discovered that I enjoyed working in large scale sculpture and working with metal. I was able to use elements of traditional stories told to me by friends and family over the years to create these two pieces.
This work is based on a traditional story told by the T’satsąot’inę (Copper People) and also found in 'The book of the Dene' translated by Emile Petitot (1838-1916). Here is my telling of the story.
A Dene woman living along the shores of the Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories was kidnapped by an Inuk to be his wife. After barring him two children, she escapes her Inuit captives. On long journey home she discovers metal nuggets of copper. When she returns to her people, they do not welcome her back. In an attempt to win favour with them, she tells them of her copper discovery. She leads a small group men in search of the metal. Along the way the men loose faith in her story and they abuse her violently and abandon her on the tundra. Alone, heart-broken she sits down and begins weep. As she weeps, she begins to sink into the ground. In her sorrow, she begins to produce tears of copper. It is said she could produce copper with her breath. As people came upon her in their travels, they offered her caribou meat in exchange for copper. In time, she slowly disappeared beneath the surface of the land, taking all the copper with her.
This work is based on the shape of canvas wall tents used by many Dene traveling on the land in winter. The canvas wall tent was introduced to the Dene during the fur trade and has remained because of its usefulness. It is also known as prospectors tent.
The meaning implied in the title of the piece, is related to a sacred site located in my traditional territory. The portal was created after Dene settled into, what is now known as Tli'cho Territory. The portal was used by people to transport themselves back to the desert. There are stories told among the people that the Dene migrated to the subarctic regions after a dispute within their traditional lands among the Dine'e. While working for the Native Communications Society in 1990s, I attended the Gathering of Nations Pow wow with a Tli'cho speaker to explore some of these connections.
I am interested in the displacement of the people and the journey made by this group of Dine'e to Wiilliideh.