What if the Mandalorian's armour was birch bark instead of beskar? An Algonquin artist brings that to life
‘If we had superheroes, what would they wear?’ artist Christal Ratt asked herself
What would it look like if the Mandalorian was Indigenous?
For Anishinaabe (Algonquin) artist Christal Ratt, that meant swapping out the Star Wars character's signature beskar steel armour for wiigwas, the word for birch bark in the Algonquin language.
"I really like the Mandalorian series and thought I should make it Indigenous — make it as a tribute to land defenders and all the people that are out there on the front lines," said Ratt, who is a member of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake in western Quebec.
Since 2019, members of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake have enforced their own moratorium on sports moose hunting in the province's La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve over concerns about a decline in the herd's population.
That's why Ratt etched an image of a moose out on the land right in the centre of the chest plate.
And while it may not be able to stop lightsabers, the wearable piece of art also includes a birch bark helmet, with quilled Woodland florals and different shades of orange to honour residential school survivors from her community.
The piece is called Shemaginish, which means warrior.
"If we had superheroes, what would they wear?" Ratt said when asked about what sparked the idea for the piece. "I was just thinking of all of that [and] to see how I can represent our people."
Handed down through the generations
For Algonquin communities, birch bark has traditionally been used to make canoes, baskets, moose calls and cradleboards. Ratt has incorporated the material into jewelry, bags, dolls and even a facemask.
"I really want to keep working with the wiigwas, because it's something that people have always done," she said. "I just want to be one of those people that keeps those traditions going."
Working with birch bark is a skill that's been passed down from generation to generation in her family. Ratt's grandparents made canoes, and she harvests birch bark with her parents.
"It's always been very important to our people," said her mother, Beatrice Ratt. "I'm very proud of her that she can do all those things. When we first saw what she made, I was very surprised."
Recognition for her work
Earlier this month, Ratt brought the suit to the Heard Guild Museum's 2022 Indian Market and Fair in Phoenix, Ariz.
She picked up a second-place ribbon in the market's juried competition in the diverse art forms category for personal attire and accessories without a predominance of beads or quillwork.
"I'm really new to the art market world and the juried competition; I started in 2018," Ratt said. "I've been really thankful that so far in every market that I've been to, I've won a ribbon [and] this one is just extra special because it was a whole wiigwas piece."