Made from this land: Keeping ancient Wabanaki knowledge alive through art
Videos explore different arts of Wabanaki people across the Maritimes
I am a Wolastoqi journalist from Neqotkuk (Tobique First Nation) in northwestern New Brunswick. My nation's traditional unceded territory stretches all along the Wolastoq, commonly known as the St. John River, from Quebec down to the Bay of Fundy.
"Made from this land" is a series that explores different arts and crafts of Wabanaki people across the Maritimes. Many of the skills have been passed down from generation to generation.
The Wabanaki Confederacy, or People of the Dawnland, is made up of five distinct Indigenous nations: Abenaki, Mi'kmaq, Penobscot, Peskotomuhkati (Passamaquoddy) and Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet). These nations territories span Nova Scotia, P.E.I, New Brunswick, parts of Quebec and New England in the United States.
With every conversation I had there was a common thread of reconnection, reconnection to language and traditional knowledge and preserving them for future generations.
For these artists, creating things as their ancestors did gives their work passion. Working with materials that could be gathered from their traditional homelands — ash, birch, butternut, porcupine quills, deer and moose hides — gave them a connection to the land their ancestors left for them.
Ned Bear, Justin Sappier
The late Ned Bear of Sitansisk (St. Mary's First Nation in New Brunswick), a woodworker who carved masks named for spirit guides, inspired new generations of mask carvers in the Wolastoqiyik Nation, including Justin Sappier of Neqotkuk.
Gabriel Frey, Shane Perley-Dutcher
Gabriel Frey of Motahkomikuk (Indian Township, Maine) learned to make utility baskets from his grandfather but had to reimagine what utility is today. Shane Perley-Dutcher of Neqotkuk learned to make baskets from a Wolastoqi elder who later would be an inspiration for the use of non-traditional material for baskets.
Melissa Peter-Paul of Abegweit First Nation in P.E.I., who makes art with porcupine quills, travels the roads of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia just to find the materials her great-great grandmother used for quill art.
Brian Knockwood of Sipekne'katik (Indian Brook First Nation in Nova Scotia) of the Eastern Eagle Singers grew up in the shadow of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School, disconnected from his heritage, but now teaches people how to make their own drums.
My hope is that sharing these stories can be a bridge to some understanding of Indigenous cultures. Art is critical to the continuance of culture. Respectful representation of these distinct nations is equally as important. These art forms all hold within them traditional knowledge of the very land from which they came.
Nit leyic — may that be the truth.