About the Artwork
In my artwork, I depict Tsilhqot’in stories, myths, beliefs, and culture as they are, life as it is for my people. I was born an artist, a dreamer, and a storyteller. The grandmothers say that women hold the genetic ties to the DNA of our mother’s mother. I am my great grandmother Tlo’isdan (Tsilhqot’in for “mountain sweetgrass”), who held the knowledge of healing plant remedies. I am my grandmother who kept the healing traditions alive through stories she handed down. I am my late mother who was a dreamer and a teacher of our cultural spirituality. My earliest awareness of art came to me from my childhood: the musky smell of the wet earth I used to make mud pies, or the color of grass stains on my knees and the feeling of dandelion powder on my nose. What I didn’t realize was how the energy of the earth connects me to my ancestry and lives in the art I create, opening up a healing space for myself and others!
The energy of the earth connects me to my ancestry and lives in the art I create, opening up a healing space for myself and others.
My grandmother was born around 1915, three years before the Spanish flu pandemic wiped out thousands of young and old on Canadian Indigenous reserves. Up until 1952, when she was 37 years old, she could not practice our spirituality or harvest any of our plant medicines because it was against the law! The Indian Act prevented our families from speaking our language and from conducting any of our ceremonies, which broke our connection to the earth and to our identities.
Since I was a child I have refused to comply with the assimilation of our cultural practices. Unknowingly, it started with my childhood art forms. A plant that was given to me in a dream was a reminder for me to actively practice traditional and alternative medicine, making use of wildcrafted plants and herbs or of plants grown according to Indigenous gardening methods to balance family and community health.
Through my education and career years, I met other Indigenous people who helped reawaken my cultural interest. That brought me back to my Tsilhqot’in homeland to learn more about my culture, language, and identity. At home, I quickly learned about our cultural practices, the plants we used in healing, and the knowledge deeply rooted in the Tsi Qungh, or “rock house,” also known as the “sweat lodge” to other Indigenous cultures.
In Indigenous worldviews, culture is not separate from Mother Earth, nor is it separate from our creativity in the arts. When I do workshops for schools and organizations, the first step toward awareness is educating people, encouraging them to become apprentices to the ecosystem. The gifts of wisdom I received from women Elders in my matriline and throughout my life’s travels are subtly hidden in the four-directional teachings I share.
In Indigenous worldviews, culture is not separate from Mother Earth, nor is it separate from our creativity in the arts.
When the earth is sick, people are sick, and vice versa. In my lifetime, I have witnessed the loss of biodiversity—the loss of balance between plant and animal species caused by industrial practices in agriculture, forestry, and water use, applied by big companies that are only interested in their return on investment. And I have experienced seven pandemics, of which four have arisen from wildlife—from bird or market animal diseases that have spilled over into people. As I write, we are in the midst of COVID-19, the most severe pandemic since the flu pandemic of 1918.
To heal the earth and ourselves, we must return to the ancestral teachings. We as a people in the four directions—west, east, south, and north—must recover our grandmothers’ “gift” of healing: the gift of healing people and the earth by re-establishing the interconnectedness of all things, so we can put together the broken glass of Indigenous identities and protect future generations.
To learn more about Barbara’s artwork, writings, and teachings, visit https://nativestudioart.net.
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Barbara Derrick is a professional artist, teacher, speaker, and writer who lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Her heritage is a rich tapestry of Tsilhqot’in, Japanese, Ukrainian, Hungarian, and Scottish descent. In her business, Native Studio Art, she teaches the organic aesthetics of Mother Earth through the arts. In her 2017 book Walking in Your Power: Lessons from the Grandmothers, she shares her life experience and the teachings of empowerment. Read more from Barbara Derrick: