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Arts
Dehcho
Economy

Fort Providence artist returns home to empower creators


A Fort Providence artist found her way home this summer to help run an artist development program.

The Deh Gah Art Collective, originally called the Fort Providence Arts and Crafts Development Program, worked with nine Indigenous women with a mission to foster high-quality art in the community.

Shawna McLeod, owner of From the Land Creations, made the trip home from Yellowknife after Lois Philipp, owner of sustainability group Northern Loco, asked if she would help run a moose hide camp.

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“She kept asking: ‘do you really want to come home?’ and I kept saying ‘yes, I do,’” said McLeod.

As a result, McLeod and Rochelle Sanderson, another Fort Providence-based artist working with Northern Loco, started the Deh Gah Art Collective.

McLeod comes from a line of creators that includes her late grandmother, Florestine McLeod, a hide tanner, and her mother, Joyce McLeod, a skilled sewer. McLeod’s sister, Robyn, is an Indigenous fashion designer whose work has appeared at a national level.

“I don’t think I would have had the success or made the connections I have if it wasn’t for my home,” McLeod told Cabin Radio.

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The program started in May this year and was originally planned to run until the end of September. However, after a successful summer, participants will continue to create through the winter.

“We created it as a way to empower women and the community,” said McLeod.

“There are a lot of traditional art practices that were native to this area, hide tufting being one of them.

“A generation ago, Fort Providence was known for top, high-quality work, but it has since declined a little bit. People aren’t using art here as the main source of income any more.”

Source of income

Through a summer of workshops, McLeod worked with women in Fort Providence to connect them to traditional art practices.

“We started with beading. We did a trauma-informed workshop, understanding our residential school legacy and why we are the way we are, and how that impacted our community,” she said.

“We also connected with our Elders and did lots of praying and lots of smudging, and then we did four weeks of hide tanning.”

Workshops in medicine harvesting, soap and lotion making, and purse making also took place.

“They got to experience different technology and ways of creating art, and that there are different ways to create traditional art,” said McLeod.

All nine participants of the program were paid by Northern Loco.

While all creations belong to the collective until the end of September, from October the collective will open to all Fort Providence residents and products will be sold by the artists themselves, with the intention to provide for themselves and keep the collective running through winter.

“Job availability and job security in Fort Providence is low. There are not a lot of government jobs, there are not a lot of opportunities for work,” McLeod explained.

“The idea was to provide a source of income for them while also teaching them about traditional practices.”

After more than 40 women applied in May for the program’s nine funded positions, McLeod expects the winter to be a busy time for the collective.

She said the plan is to eventually convert the collective into a traditional arts and crafts guild.  

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