“I was raised by my grandparents and their parents. So it had a lot of influence. And most of my elders were raised by their own elders. So a lot of this information passed on to me is ancient and to bring back. It gives me more sense of the security of our identity through art. And hopefully one day… my collection will be museums.”
Arsenne Betsidea is a 40 year-old quill artist from Deline and Whati. Taught by his grandmother at seven years old, he continues to make art today.
“A lot of that Dene art that I normally do is trying to reconnect to our ancient techniques and methods and how they used to do stuff,” says Betsidea.
His goal is to perverse the techniques by starting to teach his relatives the basic skills, “after a while I figured this has to be passed on one way or another.”
Working with birch bark and porcupine quills mostly, Betsidea also did a miniature birch bark canoe.
“This technique was taught by a lady in Whati, she passed on long time ago and she basically showed me how to knit babiche bags. A lot of these arts are from way back then. And some might have been lost already.”
Betsidea doesn’t do as much art as before as he works full-time, but he still has projects. One project he’s working on right now is a porcupine quill belt.
Getting his supplies locally is best he says, they’re higher quality and less short in size than buying online. He learns from stories as well, listening to his elders talk about how they used to make their clothes then.
“Just even getting to this point of working on those porcupine quilted belt… that took me nearly 10 years to figure that how to do that. So it takes time. And I’m just in the learning period now, that’s what I normally would do, just master one technique, then move on to the next,” he says.
Betsidea would do art full time if it supported him well enough, but for now his main goal is to preserve the techniques.
Through this practice, Betsidea has never felt more connected to his culture. He speaks two Indigenous languages, and understands the different dialects.
“I guess all the art work that I do, it’s just the encouragement for the elders, the ones that have passed on that I can remember and for the current elders that we have right now, without their guidance or special teachings probably I’ll never had the upbringing that I had, and that made me the person who I am right now.”
Clarification Dec. 15: CKLB corrected the age from ’24’ to ’40’, the spelling of ‘babiche’ bags, and the addition of ‘quill’.