Darlene Scurvey, left, and Elizabeth Bosley pose for a photo by the healing totem pole in Whitehorse on June 18. Scurvey is an instructor for the Yukon College Yukon First Nations Arts Certificate Program, while Bosley helped to develop the program’s curriculum. (Joshua Azizi/Yukon News)

Yukon College taking applications for new Yukon First Nations art program

Yukon College has opened the application process for its new Yukon First Nations art certificate program, which begins this September.

The program will begin its first year as a pilot project that can be tweaked in future years. Twelve Indigenous students will be accepted into the year-long program.

Yukon College casual instructor Elizabeth Bosley developed the program and based its curriculum off similar First Nations art programs at Aurora College in the Northwest Territories and Portage College in Alberta.

“I was able to work in partnership with both of those institutions to utilize their curriculum and look at the framework of their individual courses,” Bosley said. “I have that curriculum and resource material, and I’m tweaking it to ‘Yukonize’ the material.”

Bosley also consulted with Yukon First Nations in developing the program, which provided her with lots of feedback.

“I incorporated a lot of those ideas as much as possible into the seven courses that we created.”

Art skills that students will learn about include beadmaking, sewing, embroidery, carving, drawing and tufting moose and caribou hair. They will also learn to create traditional footwear, porcupine quill earrings, gauntlet mittens and fish scale art.

The artwork will primarily be done in the styles of Yukon First Nations, although they will occasionally learn art forms from other regions as well. Students will also take math and english courses, as well as a course on managing an art career.

The lead instructor in the program will be Darlene Scurvey, an artist from the Kwanlin Dün First Nation who specializes in beadwork.

“My greatest moments of happiness are when teaching traditional arts and culture to younger generations or being out on the land,” she said in a press release. “Our land here is so beautiful and abundant with everything we need to create authentic, vibrant art and crafts. I aim to encourage innovation and value credibility and integrity in the students.”

In an interview with News, Scurvey said the program is a way for Yukon First Nations to maintain their traditional art practices and teach future generations.

“We don’t have a whole lot of local First Nation arts studios in Whitehorse. With this program, and with the strength that we’re giving the First Nations, (we’re providing them) that opportunity to develop and build their own sewing skills, their knowledge, their cultural values. There’s some language that is going to come out of it, some singsonging — I got my drum and I could do drum-making. There’s drum-making that could be done and they could learn how to start drumming and singing their traditional songs.”

Bosley highlighted how graduates of the program could sell their products in First Nations heritage centres. She pointed to her own experience working as the acting heritage director and community arts and events coordinator at the Teslin Tlingit Council to demonstrate the demand for First Nations art.

“We have a beautiful heritage centre with a gift shop, but there’s not that much product in the gift shop from our local artists. And when the tourists come in, or guests come into the community, that’s what they want. They want to buy authentic local art from an Indigenous person.

“By offering this program, (for) any Indigenous people that have an interest in learning the introductory and basic forms of art, this is a good starting point for them.”

She also said that graduates could work in museums, offer workshops within their own First Nations or become independent, entrepreneurial artisans.

Contact Joshua Azizi at joshua.Azizi@yukon-news.com

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