Thursday, September 18, 2014
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Keeping First Nations traditions alive

By Kerry Benjoe, The Leader-Post

Birch-bark biting will remain a family tradition for generations to come, thanks to Rosella Ross-Carney.

The First Nations artist was in Regina at the Sherwood Village library branch over the weekend to share her birch-bark biting knowledge.

Ross-Carney, 70, said it's important to keep not only language but culture alive.

"It's who we are," she said.

"I hung on to what I could learn. I have always wanted to learn more. I was nosy and be like, 'How do you do this? How do you do that?' I was always interested in learning so I guess there was a purpose why, because someday I was going to be doing this."

Ross-Carney's persistence to learn has helped keep the art of birch-bark biting alive.

It all started in 1989, after an elder shared the art form with Ross-Carney.

"When we were growing up I never saw anything like this," she said.

Ross-Car ney was intrigued by what folded birch bark and a couple of teeth could produce.

After learning the basics of how to do birch-bark biting, over time she was able to perfect her technique.

"I learned by experimenting," said Ross-Carney. "I was taught that if you didn't do it right then you do it again."

Ross-Carney can create images from flowers to fish to birds and butterflies.

Each piece ranges in size and no two pieces are ever exactly alike.

Ross-Carney has become an expert in the art form.

She believes anyone has artistic ability; it just takes different forms, and she loves to see the creative part come alive in someone's eyes.

"When they do art, it opens up their minds," said Ross-Carney.

One of the biggest benefits to learning the art form is being able to teach it to others, she said.

"I have taught my children, my grandchildren and now my great-grandchildren and I'm still doing that because I take them home and show them the ways of nature," she said.

Reina Natomogan, 15, who accompanied her greatgrandmother to Regina, said she loves being able to create birch-bark images.

"It's fun," she said. Natomagan said the best part of learning about the art form is being able to spend time with her grandmother.

She began learning the technique when she was only four.

Natomagan not only learned how to make art pieces, she also knows how to gather the birch-bark that she uses.

Although she's only 15, she plans on sharing her knowledge with others, just like her grandmother.

Ross-Carney said it fills her with a sense of pride knowing she has done her part to help preserve First Nations culture.

She plans on continuing to perfect her craft and to continue teaching others.

Ross-Carney said that in the last decade there is more demand from people wanting to not only learn their language but to learn traditional ways of doing things. Although the demand keeps her busy, she's happy to offer her services to those with a thirst for knowledge.

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