'Colonization tried to completely stamp us out': Tlingit artist celebrates traditional art in solo exhibition

Calvin Morberg's exhibit opened on Saturday, March 12 at the Yukon Arts Centre.

The Atsakú dàk nadutîn exhibition opened at the Yukon Arts Centre on Saturday, highlighting Tlingit art

Brian Walker at Calvin Morberg's solo art exhibit opening day. (Sissi De Flaviis/CBC)

For the first time in his 20 year career, Indigenous Yukon carver Calvin Morberg presented a solo exhibition at the Yukon Arts Centre on Saturday.

Morberg, part of the Dak'lawèidí (eagle clan) of the inland Tlingit Nation, said traditional art is an important aspect of his work.

"Colonization tried to completely stamp us out of existence: our culture, our language, our songs, our dance and our way of life," Morberg said. "Because of reasons like this, I have chosen to dedicate my life to help preserving this beautiful and amazing art form. That and I just really love carving."

He said he hopes this tradition can continue. 

"I really feel like we have a responsibility to continue carrying our traditional art form forward into the future for our young people," said Morberg during his opening speech.

The exhibition titled Atsakú dàk nadutîn, meaning "knowledge is being brought forward."

Calvin Morberg delivering his speech at the art exhibit opening day at the Yukon Arts Centre lobby on Saturday, March 12.

His art collection showcases a combination of wood and copper creations while immersing the spectators in the foundational Tlingit artistic traditions.

"Through the art I create, my goal is to provide insights into our Tlingit ways, our cultural resilience through time and our current artistic resurgence," read Morberg's description of the exhibit.

Morberg told CBC News at the official opening it was a relief to finally have the installation open to the public.

The art on display is a multi-year combination of his artwork as it includes both older and newer pieces.

"I put a lot of my pieces in because I wanted to show people my growth as an artist," said Morberg. 

The mentor

Among the pieces in the exhibition there is a special one called Daughter of the Creeks, showing a young woman, a salmon and carefully curated details carved into a copper shield. This was created as a collaboration between Morberg and his carving mentor, Brian Walker.

"I'm just very happy for Calvin, he is having his first big public exhibition, which is not going to be his last for sure," said Walker.

Brian Walker and Calvin Morberg standing by the "Daughter of the Creeks." The piece shows a young woman, daughter of the sea monster Gonakadet (Bringer of Wealth), protecting the salmon in all the small creeks and streams. (Sissi De Flaviis/CBC)

Walker explained Morberg reached out to him a couple of years ago asking him for his mentorship.

"I've had a number of people ask me to teach them over the years, but Calvin was the only one that came forward with a real openness and respect for the art, which made it easy to teach," said Walker. "He was the perfect guy to come along and pass this on to."

The duo worked together for a year with Morberg learning from Walker, but the relationship has evolved into an art work partnership since then.

The exhibit can be viewed at the Yukon Arts Centre until May 20.