Featured photo: A detailed photograph of Danielle’s beaded dreamcatcher. (Photo by Danielle Stickman)

Every year, the Northern Center has the honor of commissioning an Alaska-based artist whose work embodies the spirit of Northern Alaska to create an original piece for our organization. 

Each annual art piece embodies relationships to the lands in Interior and Arctic Alaska that we work to protect and is featured on our event publicity and fundraising materials throughout the year. The original piece is also auctioned off at our annual Night for the North fundraiser event in November.

This year’s Featured Artist is Danielle Stickman, a beading artist, creative advocate, environmentalist, and facilitator based in Anchorage, Alaska.

Danielle Stickman is smiling and looking directly into the camera. She is wearing a billed hat, buff around her neck, and a grey long sleeve sweater. Her face is in shadow and the sun is illuminating her hair and shoulders.

Danielle Stickman. (Photo by Emily Sullivan)

In her own words, read about the inspiration, storytelling, and culture behind her beaded dreamcatcher, Ełnena Ada:

Beading dreamcatchers is a grounding practice that has reconnected me back to both of my parents’ cultures; Dena’ina and Koyukon Athabascan. Glass beads were once a very valuable trade item for Athabascan people across Alaska. Beads found at historical archaeological sites can tell us the approximate dates of occupation and who the possible trading parties were. Before, during, and after the trading of glass beads, animal parts and plants were, and continue to be, used as decoration in clothing and jewelry. Items such as quills, feathers, bones, wood, sinew, dentalium, and seeds were all used — then and now — to adorn clothing and make jewelry. Decorating clothing was a sign of status, clan, tribe, and also told a sukdu (story/stories).

As I bead, I allow myself the space to sit still and reflect on Ancestors before me who made all their clothes by hand, who lived nomadically, and who traveled by foot and dogsled. A few years ago during my first yoga teacher training, I was learning the sanskrit words of the yoga poses. During the training, an insight came around language and the power that comes from Indigenous languages. Through the mind/body practice of yoga and meditation I realized what was missing from my beadwork; I was missing sukdu. Beadwork is beautiful in itself but when I add a Dena’ina name or phrase to a piece, sukdu are then woven into the art and along with it, the revitalization of the Dena’ina language continues. Dena’ina people believed that sukdu are medicine and as sukdu are woven into the art pieces I make, medicine is shared. 

For me, Arctic life looks like my Dena’ina and Koyukon Ancestors living in reciprocity with the ełnena (land), animals, and waters. It looks like Athabascan place names that tell sukdu. It looks like my late Chida (Grandma) Gladys Evanoff telling sukdu of how łik’aqa (dogs) and humans traveled a long time ago. I can hear her speaking in Dena’ina fluently, about how people would sometimes have to walk in snowshoes in deep snow to break trail for the łik’aqa. The łik’aqa would have a łik’a hał yesa (skin dog pack) which was made from caribou legs and was waterproof.

Sometimes it takes me a while to think of the right name of an art piece. I reflect on the image, my intention, the sukdu woven in, and then I do research in my Dena’ina books to find a name that feels right. I named this dreamcatcher Ełnena ada, which means “to care for the land”. The sukdu of a name are important as they are descriptive and tell how the people are connected to place, history, and cultures. I named this dreamcatcher in tribute to the ełnena and all of the Elders who have taught me, directly and indirectly, about how to respect the land, animals, waters, and each other. This dreamcatcher embodies the sukdu of the original stewards of the Arctic lands. 

The abstract image of the Ełnena ada dreamcatcher is a dog team running toward a sunrise in the middle of a snowy boreal forest. In 2016, I was given the opportunity to run an Elder’s dog team around Arctic Village by myself. I was nervous and excited, but the łik’aqa knew the way.  Six years later I was able to run another dog team on the Yukon River, my paternal homewaters. I was handed the sled and told, “hold on and whatever you do, don’t let go!”, and off we went through mounds of snow and a minor fall. Eventually, the łik’aqa and I found our rhythm and that rhythm felt like coming home – living in reciprocity with animals and the ełnena. Human and animal survival were interdependent with each other in the past. Athabascans saw łik’aqa and all animals as kin. This is what I think of when I think of Arctic life — traveling quietly amongst snowy trees, enjoying the pace of animal powered travel, and understanding our role in nature as participants and stewards.

The language I use to name my art pieces are from my Dena’ina Athabascan lineage as we are a matrilineal culture. However, below are some of the words both in Dena’ina and Koyukon languages to share the similarities of Athabascan languages. 

Dena’ina Athabascan Koyukon Athabascan
-eł dnayi – one’s relatives ledon’ – relative of
Łik’a – dog Łeek – dog
Łik’aqa – dogs Łeekkaa’ – dogs
Hetl – sled Hūtl – sled
ełnena – land ‘nen – land

This piece was inspired by an image captured by Emily Sullivan and all my dog sledding adventures with Gideon, Jody, Bathsheba, Deenaalee, Jamie, and all the Łik’aqa

Chin’an gheli (thank you very much). Chin’an to the Northern Center for choosing me as the featured artist this year. I’m so grateful for this opportunity and for the tireless work Northern Center does for conservation in the Arctic.