Reclaiming lost Aztec heritage through art

Amber Walker is not from the Yukon, but has learned to call it home. Living in the North has also helped her learn about where she came from. Walker will present original drawings in a show called Reclamation.

Amber Walker is not from the Yukon, but has learned to call it home.

Living in the North has also helped her learn about where she came from.

Walker will present original drawings in a show called Reclamation beginning today at the Yukon Artists at Work gallery in Whitehorse.

It’s a show about exploring lost mysteries, heritage and tradition.

Walker has always known that she has Mexican and Aztec ancestry, but it is only in the last year that she has started exploring that part of her identity.

“It’s been terrifying,” said Walker. “It’s been good, but scary. I’m still amazed at how people know so little about where they come from.”

Walker was raised mostly by her mother, who is German and Irish. Her father is Mexican and Aztec. Her husband is Southern Tutchone, Tlingit and Welsh.

Growing up in California, Walker didn’t have pride in her heritage.

Her peers called her “whitexican,” meaning “someone who just wears the mask but isn’t really being who they are.”

But she wasn’t white, either.

When she moved with her husband to the Yukon in 2007, she was forced to confront her identity.

“People downtown that have been here for years can easily tell, ‘Well you’re obviously not from here,’ and ‘You’re indigenous from down south, what are you?’ And the more and more I had to answer them, the more and more I had to face it.”

“Aboriginal,” “First Nation,” “Mexican” … None of the labels felt quite right.

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When she gave birth to a son in 2010, she knew that she had some digging into her past to do.

“People kept telling me, ‘Oh what a beautiful little Southern Tutchone baby,’ and I thought it’s really important that he knows all of what he is.”

Being surrounded by strong First Nation people and culture has helped Walker come to terms with who she is.

“The pride that they have up here for their heritage is so contagious,” she said.

One of her husband’s aunties told her that if she’s not comfortable saying she’s Aztec or Mexican, she should just adopt Southern Tutchone.

She did, at some points, but in her art she kept being surprised at the Aztec elements that seemed to appear from nowhere.

Walker has spent the last year learning everything she can about Aztec history, mythology and art.

She hasn’t yet found an elder she can take her questions to, but members of a group called the Aztec Fire Dancers have given her lots of valuable information.

She has also joined the Ta’an Kwach’an Dancers, another outlet with which to explore her heritage creatively.

“The First Nations up here really helped with that because now when I go out, they’re like, ‘Well, she’s Aztec but she’s part of our Southern Tutchone family.’”

Walker’s artwork explores the theme of reclamation through pencil and ink drawings on paper.

The show is about reclaiming a connection to tradition, ritual, and ancestry, but it’s also about reclaiming a connection to nature, an ethic of kindness, and a belief in magic.

When she starts a piece, she usually has no idea how it will turn out.

They usually begin with flowers, which are used in Aztec art to lighten the mood, she said. The rest grows spontaneously from there.

The drawings combine elements of the human, natural and supernatural.

Walker uses Aztec imagery, but the style is all her own.

A piece called The Journey of Kindness, shows a cat, a bird, a fish and a sprite each doing a small part to bring a gesture of kindness to a teenager.

Walker wanted to show that kindness is a cycle, and it “always trickles up and out,” she said.

A related theme of Walker’s work is a childlike belief in magic.

She has been inspired by a young cousin of her husband’s, who doesn’t believe in “I can’t.”

Walker has struggled with “I can’t,” but through her art is reclaiming the idea that anything is possible.

“I thought that there was no way I was going to move up here and do art for a living,” she said. “It wasn’t until I got up here and my husband said, ‘You can’t think like that up here, because this is the land of you-can-do-anything.’”

Walker’s show runs until August 14. The opening reception is today from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. at the Yukon Artists at Work gallery, 120 Industrial Rd.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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