This is a photo of some of the scales, as well as a grouping of the scales that have stayed intact to their true form.

 

My work as an Indigenous artist focuses strongly on art as a traditionally (in an Indigenous context) wearable media. Precontact there was no need for material possessions that had no purpose, therefore all art was inherently a useful item. In this context I focus directly on the wearable uses of materials to decorate clothing or adorn bodies. I work with as many natural items as I can, often using every part of the animal. I often use bones, quills, fur, shells, and leather to create my works. The Pointe-Au-Chien tribe share a similar relationship to art. They create masterful works of art with Garfish scales.

The Garfish is a skinny, bony fish with little meat on it. However, the true beauty of this fish is the skeletal system. To access these amazing scales without damaging them is a long process. The Pointe-Au-Chien tribe lay the fish carcass out to fully decay out in a safe area. Then when all the non-scale and bone pieces of the fish are gone, all that is left are the scales laying in the dirt. They then collect them all by hand to bring inside and clean, using bleach. They are left with beautiful, feather like, scales that can be dyed an array of colors and used for jewelry. They also use these scales to decorate their regalia.

In my community, and my personal works, there is a similar use of fish bones from the Sheepshead fish, a lowly regarded fish species. The bones are very beautiful when cleaned and can be used for decorative purposes as well. In particular, they are well known for the skull bones. Being able to sit down and connect with such amazing people and find such amazing similarities to bond over has been a unique and enlightening experience.

Returning to this idea of Indigenous art as inherently wearable, the Pointe-Au-Chien have used the scales in the same ways other Indigenous peoples have used shells to decorate regalia dresses. In contemporary times we often use metal cones to create dresses that jingle, however here they continue to use the scales allowing for a more natural aesthetic. I’m inspired when I see them holding on to the traditions they can. I have been gifted some scales that I am ecstatic to begin using. As soon as I figure out how to clean and dye them...

This is a photo of some community women and I collecting the scales from the dirt.

Thank you for joining us on our journey! You can follow along by liking our facebook page or by following us on twitter @turtleislandsol. You can also contribute to the journey by contributing to our gofundmepage where there are lots of cool perks from Anishinaabe artist Emma Rain Smith and John “Smitty” Smith, Lower Ninth Ward resident and author of Exiled in Paradise All funds will go to unforeseen trip costs, honorariums to the communities we meet, and to the production of visual media. These media will feature notable community organizers and indigenous leaders we meet throughout our journey speaking out on issues of environmental racism, climate change, and colonialism and inspiring us to take action to create a better world.

We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the WLU AUS (Arts Undergraduate Society), WLU Indigenous Initiatives and Services and St. Jerome's University as well as Commons Studio for their generous rate on camera equipment.

Emma Rain Smith is an Anishinaabe artist from Walpole Island (Bkejwanong) First Nations. She studies Fine Arts with a Studio Major in the Honors Arts and Business at the University of Waterloo. She was the president of the Aboriginal Students Association at UW for two years. As an artist she toys with the theme of communication in her work, working with traditional oral stories to create visual representations of them. She uses traditional Indigenous beading techniques blended with contemporary design elements and technology. The process of beading is very time consuming, the labour of process art bringing a deeper level of meaning to the work. Her work outside of art revolves around education where she works encourage her community and Indigenizing the education systems within Kitchener-Waterloo.

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