The smell of smoked hide within the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre offered a telltale sign that the Adaka Cultural Festival was about to begin.
Sixteen eight-inch squares created by different indigenous artists were spread out upstairs in the Adaka offices earlier this week.
“You could smell the smoked hide throughout the building. Even at the bottom of the stairs. It’s beautiful. It’s very reflective of the work,” said executive director Charlene Alexander.
The squares are part of this year’s big group project: Carrying Forward Our Traditions.
Indigenous artists from Canada and the United States created their squares using techniques like beading, quills, tufting and fur.
Now the squares will be stitched together to create one large panel to display at the festival, which starts today and runs until July 2. Thousands of people are expected to attend.
Adaka started in Whitehorse in 2011. Since then it has grown from a few tents along Front Street to having a permanent home in the cultural centre.
It’s six days of performances, presentations and public workshops honouring First Nations culture in the Yukon and connecting with others outside the territory.
“A big part of that is inviting guest artists to be a part of the festival so that Yukon artists have a chance to network and share knowledge and skills and build those connections,” said associate producer Caili Steel.
“We always have artists from outside the territory involved, from across the North, from other parts of Canada and international artists as well.”
Artists weren’t given any specific theme or direction for their work on the squares, Alexander said.
“Sometimes you do that. But for this we decided to just let them do something that really reflected them.”
After the festival, Alexander says she hopes to find a permanent home for the panel.
“We also hope to send it to each community so they can share it with their own artists.”
Last year the festival did a similar group project involving master carvers. “So we decided we wanted to do something similar for fine craft artists. Give them the same opportunity to come together with international artists and curators and to be inspired by one another.”
Along with their squares, each of the 16 artists was asked to create a carrying bag, which is what gave the project its name. The resulting variety of bags ranges from a modern beach bag to a traditional First Nations baby carrier.
It’s “going to be a feast for the eyes,” Alexander said.
Interest in the festival is growing.
“We just had a call from someone yesterday from Grande Prairie to register for some workshops and they’re coming up specifically to come to the festival,” Steel said.
“So it’s really become a staple cultural tourism attraction in the territory.”
The combination of modern and traditional First Nations arts is also clear in this year’s Da Ze Tsan fashion show.
About 50 First Nations designers have contributed more than 140 pieces to the show, the closing event on Thursday night.
The show will feature a combination of regalia, more modern pieces and traditional wear.
Interest in fashion by First Nations designers has been growing in recent years, said co-ordinator Chantal Rondeau.
“There’s this attention being paid to what we are doing and what our designs are and how we’re mixing that traditional design into a contemporary feel.”
Among the designers being featured this year is Luxx ready-to-wear, an Edmonton designer whose work has been featured during the Western Canada Fashion Week.
Pieces from Yukon designer Brenda Lee Asp will also be there. The Northern Tutchone, Tahltan, Tlingit mother of two young boys recently showcased her work at the 2014 Couture Fashion Week in Manhattan.
Most of the events at the festival are free. But a few, including the fashion show, require a ticket.
Workshops this year include: youth paddle carving, birch bark basketry and bannock making.
Free presentations include a caribou hide scrapping demonstration, a jigging contest, language lessons, storytelling and a soapberry ice cream demonstration. Movies and documentaries will also be shown. The long list of musical performers this year includes: Han singers, Leela Gilday, Rising Sun Singers, Ed Peekeekoot and Kevin and Jona Barr.
A full schedule for the Adaka Cultural Festival can be found online at: adakafestival.ca
Contact Ashley Joannou at