Becoming a Maker

Last year, while I was pregnant with my daughter, I had specific things that I envisioned her having, and one of those was bonnets. I just loved seeing babies in bonnets. Unfortunately, I could only every find bonnets for $25-$50 CAD in the style that I liked. To put it simply, they were something I couldn’t afford (especially since I wanted her to have one for every outfit – ha!). Finally I couldn’t stand not having any for her so I bought myself a sewing machine and taught myself how to use it. I figured if I could learn how to sew then I could save some money. I am so glad that I bought that sewing machine because it has become a small part of me.

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Now, I can’t even count how many bonnets I’ve made (okay, I probably could, if I took some time to). I’ve altered the pattern (what feels like) a million times to get the fit I like on my daughter’s round head. When she was newborn I had to redo the pattern to get a small enough bonnet for her little head and as she grows I continue altering. Recently I gave away five of Alba’s bonnets to someone who needed them more than her, the great part is I am easily making more for her to replace the five that we gave away. It’s not costing me much financially as a lot of the fabrics I use are given to me in the form of old sheets (thanks mama!).

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Crocheted pixie hats and mittens for my daughter.

Recently I’ve also started delving into other projects. I’ve sewn some skirts/dresses for my daughter and myself, as well as taught myself to crochet. I can make things. A lot of these are beginner projects but I hope to make her some heirloom pieces that she can give to her children or that I can keep for any other children I may have.

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A pinafore dress and bunny bonnet I made for Alba’s first Easter.

 

The best part of all of this isn’t the money I am saving learning how to make things (instead of buy), nor is it the possibility that my grand-children will get to wear these clothes, instead it’s that I am spending time on me. Myself. While I was pregnant, one of the things I worried about was my identity. Who would I be after my daughter was born? Mother is such a beautiful title, and it is a part of my core, I was made to be Alba’s Mother, but I am more than her Mother. I am still Claudine, someone who wasn’t a mom for the past 27 years and as I navigate through my motherhood story I am trying to keep a grasp on that.  I’ve read and heard about drowning in parenthood and that hasn’t happened to me (yet, I’m sure it will come at some point). I’ve heard that the days are long, that it’s monotonous, and I think (for me) that hasn’t happened because (when I can) I take the time to just do “me” things. It’s therapeutic. I love being a Mom, and I think one of the reasons I love it is because I try to have balance and spend time on myself, especially in these wonderful early days when I’m with her literally 24/7. So, when Alba sleeps, I like to make things (or do something that I enjoy). I think this makes me a better mama, a happier mama, and I truly wish I could stay home with her forever because I am enjoying every single day.

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It’s not always easy. Sometimes I have to sew on the floor because she’s napping on the couch and I want to be in the same room as her. Another time I sewed on the floor in the basement because everywhere else in the house someone was sleeping and I didn’t want to wake anyone up but I really wanted to finish my project. To say I love it is a little bit of an understatement.

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Alba wearing the same bonnet in both images. On the right image we are bother wearing skirts that I made. 

 

Since Alba joined my life just a short 5 months ago, I have become slightly terrified of becoming an empty nester in the future (yes, I think about things like that), but at least I’ll have my sewing machine with me (*insert laughing emoticon).

Yellowknife known as Sǫ̀mbak’è (money place)

I daydream a lot about the North.

Perhaps it is because of all the stories my dad has told me about when he worked up there in his twenties. My dad still has a beautiful hand-made parka which he bought when he was up North. It has got to be at least 40 years old. From what I can remember, he worked on a ship, spending time in Tuktoyaktuk, Inuvik, Yellowknife, Hay River, and many other places in the territories. Even though my dad denies it, I’m pretty sure that I’ve got some half-siblings somewhere up North (good thing my dad doesn’t do the internet and to my aunties out there who read this – shhhh). It was a time in his youth when he had money, no wife, and their was lots of work up in the territories during the 60s. For example, the mining industry near Yellowknife was thriving.

It looks as though someone took their finger and dug it into the earth and drew that river.

It could be that I am drawn to the North because of the stories my friend Elaine shared with me during our time at the University of Victoria. She’s from Fort McPherson. She told me about the caribou, geese, and life on the Peel River. And for a short while, my son and her nephew were pen pals. Adorable. We need to start that up again.

Images of life up there were almost entirely conceivable after watching Ice Lake Rebels, Arctic Air and Ice Road Truckers. Ha. Joking. No, it was Shawna, Caroline, and Shayla’s images from their home communities which drew me to take my family to Yellowknife for Spring Break. I know – even Shawna’s mom thought we were a bit strange spending our Spring Break up North. But with friends and family living up there and the chance to show my West Coast babies a REAL winter, we did it. And all of us southerners fell in love with the North. We fell hard. Honestly, how could you not? So much sunshine and no need to worry about slathering the kids with sunscreen because you are layered upon layer with clothing to stay warm. No heat stroke. It was wonderful.

-10C is better for my family than 30C.

We got to stay on a houseboat with a couple of those Ice Lake Rebels, Stephan and Allyce, at Vee Lake. What’s up with all these reality shows? We drove on ice roads. We went snowmobiling. We made snow forts and demolished snow forts, we saw the Aurora Borealis while we felt our hands and feet freezing. My sons adopted a new uncle.  We got snowed in, learned a bit about kite skiing and we learned our most valuable lesson – you must remember to plug in your vehicle when it is -30C overnight. Whoops. Wait, the valuable lesson I took from staying on their houseboat was how much we waste water and electricity in our homes on the grid. My kids loved not having to wash their hands after every time they used the compost toilet with the pee and poo hole. Don’t worry, I was there reminding them about the hand sanitizer.

Houseboat at Vee Lake.

Isn’t that snow so pretty?

This kid isn’t tired of me taking his photos all the time, yet.

He loves having a mom as a photographer.

I googled how to take photos of Northern Lights and this was my first image. I was so excited that I forgot to lower my ISO and adjust my shutter speed.

We woke up around 1am to see the Aurora Borealis and let me tell you it was freeeezing cold. I couldn’t stop clicking my shutter release because the lights were moving quickly. It was beautiful.

Meet Dora the dog.

Afterwards, we stayed with my husband’s cousin and his lovely family. They invited us into their home and we are will be forever grateful for their hospitality. I gave them the option to throw us out if we were out of hand but they actually kept us around. At their home, we got to watch the cousins bond with each other which was a memorable experience for all. I also earned my aunty pin: sent kid out into freezing temperature with rubber boots and those silly stretchy mittens (she had me convinced that all her other gear was wet and she’d be okay), woke toddler up from afternoon nap by walking into her room and banging open the door and abruptly turning on the lights, forgot to change toddlers poopy bum, listened to the kids talk non stop about poo, took lots of pictures, bruised up my knees crawling after baby in the kid tunnels at the ice castle and tried to earn trust from the sweet & spicy niece who wouldn’t have anything to do with me until I came home with a beaded pink necklace. Then she told me we were best friends. I knew the pink beads would work. Our family took us to see the Northern Heritage Centre where the kids ran through and spent most of the visit trying on homemade “Northern style” clothing. I went shopping for some Northern wear for myself at Weaver & Devore and Just Furs. Let me just mention here that I can still smell the smoked moose hide and feel the soft seal skin on my skin. My husband and I went on a date to the Salvation Army Thrift Store where I saw an old man wearing beautiful beaded moccasins with galoshes as he spoke to his wife in their language. I found a stylish mustard coloured sweater vest and my husband bought some Stephen King books. We then went for a walk though the mall which was a good representation of the changes in the North. Afterwards we walked holding mittened hands to do some t-shirt shopping at the family owned Erasmus Apparel. Best date yet because honestly we don’t get many (dates, that is). Our last couple of days were spent going to Aurora Village where we did touristy things like being instructed on how to roast a marshmallow by an Australian tour guide, drank hot chocolate in a teepee, tobogganed down a man made hill, and went for a lovely dog sled ride while listening to my kids complain about the dogs farting.

Our cousins and Brody’s wall of drawings.

Those moccasins with all that moose hair tufting!

Look there is a moose and you can even see the drool.

Astum, Astum!

My husband never gets tired of me asking him to pose for another photo.

This snowcastle was impressive. To see more photos you can read Caroline’s blog post from last year’s Snowking’s festival. They change the design every year.

We loved every moment about our trip up North. It went by so quickly that Shawna and I had the good intentions of collaborating on something but the only thing we collaborated on was attending a Booty exercise class (yassss did we ever burn it while looking like monkeys) and then talking about parenting and photography over a cup of hot cocoa with a peppermint tea bag. Shawna and I hadn’t seen each other since we finished our diplomas in photography at Western Academy in Victoria, BC. Back then she was fresh out of high school (perhaps not that fresh) and I was already pregnant with my second son. Over the years, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing her grow as a photographer but also as a young woman and now mother. All these connections are so important for the growth of my young family and for me, as an artist, friend, mother and aunty.

Look – it’s the talented and lovely Shawna McLeod.

These are a few more stories about the North, that I can add to my daydreams for years to come. While my children can share their own stories about that time we went to Yellowknife for Spring Break.

We miss you.

*In the Dogrib language, the city is known as Sǫ̀mbak’è (Sawm-ba Kay) (money place)

-Amanda Laliberte

Featured Artist: Chief Lady Bird

I have nothing but mad respect for Chief Lady Bird as an artist and friend. During my travels in Toronto earlier this winter, I made it a point to go see her at an art & craft fair, and she was amazingly open to me being all “I like your work, be my friend.” I had first noticed her work last year, and was hoping to have her on as a featured artist, so I’m extremely happy this all worked out.

Introducing the eva-talented, Chief Lady Bird…


1. If you could collaborate with one other artist, who would it be and why?

Outside of the collective of artists that I currently collaborate with (Aura, Chippewar, Mitch Holmes, Reagan Kennedy, Nyle Johnston), it’s been my dream to create a mural with Christi Belcourt and Isaac Murdoch (Onaman collective). The murals and street art that I do with Spirit Arts Collective is very aligned with Onaman Collective’s art initiatives that connect youth to the land and the language. We all have very strong voices and I can see a collaboration being very powerful, unifying, and full of meaningful dialogue.

2. What is your favourite piece to date, and why?

My favourite piece is Medicine Man. It was the last piece I created during my thesis at OCAD University and features my dad. On the day I took the photo, we took the boat out on Georgian Bay to Tadenac where our ancestors are buried. We did ceremony and I was able to capture the essence of the smudge through silhouette and digital manipulation. I love that this piece combines storytelling with painting and bead work to discuss connection/disconnection to the land and our languages, and the importance of ancestral connection… concepts that we can all relate to as Indigenous people. It’s a very special piece. It’s one of those pieces that accesses one of my personal experiences to talk about ideas and issues that affect us all. And I think all of our individual narratives are essential to the greater narrative of who we are.

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3. What does working in schools with the Youth mean to you, and how is that reflected in the murals?

Creating murals in schools is one of the most fulfilling aspects of my career as an artist. It’s hard as hell because we open wounds when we speak hard truths and address the internalized and systemic racism that continues to exist within formal educational institutions. We address all of this while also teaching technical painting skills and painting on the mural ourselves. It can be exhausting but I love it. I love working closely with the students and hearing their stories. I love being able to find new ways to engage the students (which usually means using my tattoos as a teaching tool) and decolonize their education. I love watching the students enter the project rather timidly and then gain confidence throughout the project. There’s a lot of growth that happens when we create murals in schools. We ensure that our students receive an honest education about Indigenous peoples; we include traditional teachings, historical facts, contemporary issues, and personal narratives to create strong, trusting bonds with the kids we work with. One of my most favourite parts of mural creation is when an Indigenous student comes forward and opens up about their identity because they feel safe. There were a few students that Aura and I worked with recently who had never talked about it with their teachers. Because they felt safe enough to tell us, we were able to provide that information to the school and establish a smudging area at the school so these students could connect to their heritage. We are able to reach kids on a creative, collaborative level and this type of immersive learning is most effective because it shakes up the normalcy of Western pedagogy. The murals that we create with students bring our worldviews to life and invite them in, creating a safe space where we can all learn together and have fun.

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4. What has been your favourite mistake, in terms of your art?

My favourite mistake was assuming I was in this alone. It has been such a pleasant surprise to realize that we, as Indigenous artists, have such a strong community to work with. There was a certain level of fear when I thought about taking on a career as an artist because I thought it would be very cut-throat and I’d be working alone. But I am fortunate to be working with so many amazing collaborators who are strong, unwavering, loving and hardworking. Teamwork makes the dream work!

5. Who inspires you, outside of art?

My mom inspires me everyday. She is the glue that holds our family together. She is the strength that runs through my veins. She carries the spirit of all the women who came before us. She is strong, hardworking, compassionate, independent, honest and loving. She is one of the few people I know who truly lives by the seven grandfather teachings and she is the reason that I am an independent Anishinaabe kwe.

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6. Growing up on-reserve with a parent who practiced traditional medicine, and then moving to the city to study art: can you share how you relate, or don’t relate to, the concept of “we walk two worlds?”

It’s so interesting to be asked this question because I just included this concept in a recent piece I created for Life As Ceremony magazine. Here is an excerpt:

“There’s a concept that says Indigenous people walk in two different worlds. For most of my life i’ve had each foot in a different place. It can be difficult to balance because we are often faced with questions about blood quantum, language proficiency and “authentic Indian experiences.” Sometimes, because we have our feet planted in two different worlds, we feel “not Indian enough.” I have one foot on the rez where I can smell the sage burning. My dad cuts medicines on the front step and my mom prepares a beautiful home cooked meal for when we all convene in the dining room together. Here, the walls are lined with hand drums and Nan’s birch bark placemats. As the steam rises up from our meal and curls around our faces, I prepare a spirit plate to take into the bush for our ancestors. My mukluks crunch through the fresh snow and I think about Toronto, where my other foot is planted. I pass underneath naked birch trees and imagine they are the skyscrapers of Bay Street. The peeling bark hangs solemnly like a man in a suit, hunched over and gazing out his window at the rest of the city below him. There is a dignified sadness to the way the bark slouches and I can’t help but stare. As I lower the plate to the rock where we make our offering, I am struck by how different my worlds are. I think about how when I am home up North, I feel grounded in my traditions. I think about how I can pick cedar from a nearby tree and boil it up. I think about how my dad brings his turtle shaker into my room at night, as a form of comfort and protection. I think about how my brother rides his snow mobile down to the lake and drills holes in the ice to catch bass. And then I think about how practicing our traditions in an urban space can create tension. I think about when I smudged at a friend’s house on Pape Avenue and her neighbour texted to ask about the smell, which they described as a chemical burning. I think about how people on the subway reach out and grab my medicine pouch, because to them, it is a tactile piece of history, something that doesn’t quite belong. I think about the holes that form in the bottoms of my moccasins from walking on pavement, and the ache in my feet from being so disconnected from the land. And I think about a lady in Guelph who approached me while I painted a mural. She said: “Oh, when I heard they were doing an Aboriginal mural I assumed they would have hired an Aboriginal artist!” “I am,” I said. “How much?” she replied. Arguments about blood quantum, language proficiency and “authentic Indian experiences” aside, all I can say is, I am. No matter where my feet are, or what is above me, I AM.”

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7. Dreaming big, what is the ultimate goal for you, as an artist?

The ultimate goal for me as an artist is to have a gallery where we can showcase youth artists, emerging artists, and established artists. It will be a place to show and sell a diverse selection of Indigenous art, with no limitations. It will also have a studio space in the back for our collective to work, and a workshop space upstairs where we can host our own workshops or bring in third parties. It will be a social space where everyone can learn and have fun. I think that’s all I ever want is to spread the love, uplift our youth, create safe spaces and collaborate!

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8. One of your latest art features Evan Adams as his character Thomas Builds-the-Fire. Which is hella awesome. Can you share how this piece came to be?

I had so much fun making this piece! And Evan Adams even retweeted it! As if! This piece was created to accompany another illustration I did, which features Kawenn áhere Devery Jacobs’ character Aila from Rhymes For Young Ghouls. Both pieces represent Indigenous film and the ways in which these characters empower our communities. I wanted to create a diptych of these characters because they represent two different eras of Indigenous film. Thomas Builds-The-Fire has been essential to Indigenous film because his character has always emphasized the importance of storytelling and oral tradition, from a humorous position. And Smoke Signals as a whole is iconic because it responds to the misrepresentation of Indigenous identity in the media and allows us to sit at the same table as “everyone else” while also acknowledging our fundamental cultural and political differences. And then we have Aila in Rhymes For Young Ghouls, who represents our youth who have to fight for their lives. Her character speaks to the crisis our youth are constantly undergoing and this film, in my opinion, is a story of survivance, which Gerald Vizenor describes as a “renunciation of dominance, tragedy and victimry.” Aila fights back, and I love that about her. Aila and Thomas are different, but both are essential to the diverse and accurate representation of Indigenous people and our experiences within the media.

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9. What is something people don’t generally know about you?

People don’t generally know that I have a deep appreciation and fascination for Lady Gaga. I don’t know what it is, but ever since her first album Fame I’ve been attracted to her image and music. And the weirdest thing is that each album is released during crucial transitional phases of my life, and each of them speaks to what I’m experiencing and becomes the soundtrack for each phase. Its weird. But I’m okay with it.

10. Favorite quote:

“Yes, Pete, it is. Actually, it’s pronounced “mill-e-wah-que” which is Algonquin for ‘the good land’” – Alice Cooper, Wayne’s World Social Media:

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Keep in Touch:

FB: Chief Lady Bird Art // Insta: @chiefladybird

Twitter: @chiefladybird // Tumblr: Chief Lady Bird Art Tumblr


Chief Lady Bird (Nancy King) is a Potawatomi and Chippewa artist from Rama First Nation with paternal ties to Moosedeer Point First Nation. Her Anishinaabe name is Ogimaa Kwe Bnes, which means Chief Lady Bird. She completed her BFA in 2015 in Drawing and Painting with a minor in Indigenous Visual Culture at OCAD University and has been exhibiting her work since she was fourteen years old. Her current series of work uses “beaded glyphs” as fragments of made-up visual language that reference both wampum belts, syllabics and petroglyphs as a way of understanding the loss of language through Canada’s genocidal legacy and continued assimilation tactics. These beaded glyphs convince the viewer that they mean something and create tension and frustration between the work and viewer, to emulate the frustration that many Indigenous nations feel who aren’t fluent in their traditional languages.

 

the love of photography

There are several reasons as to why I love photography, the main ones are that my camera allows me to capture and showcase everything that is of value to me, as well as special moments for my clients and for the many amazing opportunities that it has brought into my life.

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The first and foremost reason that I love photography is because it is a creative outlet that allows me to capture my family and everything that I love, while preserving my culture and my memories with my Jijuu. It is so incredible to be able to preserve my Gwich’in culture through my photography. I have made it a personal goal of mine to always carry my camera with me when I spend time with my Jijuu, because she’s always teaching me something new – from tanning a moose hide to setting a net under the ice in -40.

The second reason that I love photography is because I have the honor of being able to capture special, once in a life time moments for my clients and their families. It is a really great feeling to see a bride relive her wedding day while sifting through photographs that I took, or to look back on photographs of elders who have passed away.

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Last but not least, I love photography for the many opportunities that it has brought into my life. I have travelled throughout Canada – photographing the people, the scenery and my experiences. I’ve photographed the Moosehide Gathering in the Yukon, been showcased at the Adaka Festival and the Arctic Image Festival, as well as photographed several weddings all over Canada. On each of my adventures, I have had the opportunity to meet so many talented, kind and respectful individuals while creating memories that I will hold in my heart forever.

Photography isn’t just a hobby for me… it’s my lifestyle.

shayla

 – shayla snowshoe

Nature’s Reminders

As the season shifts and the leaves turn golden yellow, I am reminded of nature’s innate sense of balance. For me, Autumn season evokes a time for transition and a time for letting go.

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The simplicity of watching trees slowly and gracefully shed their leaves somehow never fails to fascinate me. They remind me to reflect on what remains in my own life, and what I have stubbornly held onto. It is time to let them go.

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have camera, will shoot

A few years ago, I bought a Fujifilm x100s. I shot for a weekend trip, thought it was adorable, and put it away. It gathered dust in a drawer, until finally, at the end of 2015, I was feeling uninspired. I was thinking about how I wasn’t shooting my life for myself anymore, I was only doing client shoots. I wasn’t snapping the moments between my daughter and I, my friends and I. I wasn’t doing any fun creatives with my girls as models, and or just shooting for fun.

So at the start of January, I made it point to shoot and edit everyday images, as well as start to randomly bring my friends in as models.

I also wanted to challenge myself to only shoot with the Fujifilm for my everyday images, as well as see how it would work during pro-sessions.

In the last year, I finally feel like myself again. I look forward to the moments. I laugh more. I shoot more. My daughter is somewhat sick of me – “No, mommy, no more pictures” – and while I do honour those moments, I love the times where she’s all, “Ok Mommy, take my picture. I’m gonna pose like this!

And my friends – they’ve learned to trust the moments where I want to stop and take pictures because of beautiful light, a great wall of graffiti, a new concept.

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I guess the point of this is to trust your instincts. I took a lot of time off at the end of 2015 to let myself have the chance to “miss” taking pictures. I did what I thought I needed – to put down the camera(s), to enjoy the moment in the now, and to relive it through storytelling and laughter. I would sit through birthday parties without a camera in hand, ignoring the glances sent my way. I would go to events and put away my phone, listening to the music and singing along (badly) without having to Instagram the moment. I refuse to join Snapchat, only downloading it for the filters, then deleting it again before I got sucked in.

And it felt good.

But so does this, now.

Hearing my friend’s happy laughter as I finally say “let’s stop for pictures!” and seeing Aerie using her mini-Polaroid and direct her own little cousins in mini-photo shoots, this feels good. Watching my cousin’s gain confidence and a stronger friendship with me as they stand in front of my lens, trusting me to allow them to look authentic and strong, that feels good.

It’s okay to put the camera down and live in the moment. And it’s okay to pick it right back up again and capture that story.

That’s a storyteller’s life.

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Animals Traits and Inspiration

Recently my kind friends Erynne, her sister Emilee, and Yamilla agreed to help me out with a photoshoot for my Creations for Continuity business. Erynne and Emilee became my beautiful models and Yamilla, in exchange for jewellery, became my photography mentor of the day.

Before Yamilla, I was basically just winging my photoshoots doing everything by trial and error with any given lighting. Hard to believe I’ve had this camera for years and not known what half of the buttons do. (I’m really hoping that doesn’t get me kicked off this blog for saying that!) In any case, I’m learning slowly, but surely. By the end of the day I discovered what is now my favourite camera mode – the multiple exposure setting. Like a kid with a $50 budget at the dollar store – I went totally nuts while excitedly taking about a gazillion photos. Once we were done, there was pretty much a play by play of the whole photoshoot. Emilee, Erynne and I being our crazy weird selves, went through all the images, adding a story with silly character voices onto each others awkward in-between poses. My sister knows what i’m talking about – something unseemly only I and maybe a few select others would do/know about.

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Its people and moments like this that become reminders of why I continue to do what I do. Being a full time jewellery artist for over two years has been beyond amazing, with it however, as many full-time artists come to realize, ensues sufferable challenges. And though I could list many, maintaining self motivation and the indispensable desire for connection with others after spending X amount of hours in frantic solitary work confinement are some of the greatest ones. Building strong connections and community through art has become a vital component for not only the growth of my business but for my own personal growth and well being. Ultimately, as products of our environment, if you want to have a certain type of greatness in your life, you have to surround yourself around the types of great people you’d like to see reflected in yourself. Who we choose to invest ourselves with become our role models – shaping our outlook on life, and moulding us in ways that we could have never imagined; Emilee and Erynne are certainly two of those people for me.

Over a cup of tea, soaking in the sounds and sights of nature surrounding us, we delved into the discussion of animal traits mirrored within ourselves. And It was at that moment, when the idea for this photoshoot and the creation of the hummingbird necklace emerged.

Below features an image of Emilee wearing a newly CforC neck piece titled “Ookpik” meaning Owl in Inuvialuktun. As rulers of the night, owls uphold deep meaning for they  are seen as a powerful majestic creatures linked with wisdom and foresight – needless to say, all qualities held deeply within Emilee.

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Featured below is Erynne wearing a piece inspired entirely by her nature and its title – the “hummingbird”necklace . The hummingbird symbolizes beauty, intelligence, and love. These tiny and quick creatures are viewed as messengers of joy – as most people would agree, this statement is very much Erynne. She is as energetic and radiant as a hummingbird, gracing all those around her with a bold, energizing, and luminous presence.

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Thank you Erynne, Emilee and Yamilla for your deep support, guidance, and participation in this photoshoot! Its truly an honour to have such memorable beauties representing my line; symbolizing and embodying our indigenous and cultural identities with tremendous strength and prestige.

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