ACAD’s Main Mall reverberated with song, the strum of guitar and the beat of a hand-drum, or “Ehilly,” as the Yukon duo performed, Friday, Sept. 25.

Attended by roughly 30 people, the performance was part of a lecture and demonstration by Kaska First Nations artist Dennis Shorty, accompanied by his partner Jennifer Froehling.

The event, held from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m., was supplementary to Shorty’s exhibition, Guts’eni—Our Relations, held at ACAD’s Gallery 371, which showcased his expertly crafted carvings and sculptures made out of all natural materials: notably wood, muskox horn, moose antler, and sheep horn—a skill passed from his forefathers.

“His artwork and music is his only connection what was taken away,” said Froehling, during the lecture.

A residential school survivor, Shorty uses art and music as a way to revitalize his (Kaska) culture, tradition and heritage—one of the many indeigenous communities fractured by Canada’s abuses in their attempts at assimilation.

After the lecture, students were given the opportunity to try horn carving under Shorty’s instruction, a rare opportunity as he not only emphasized focus—as mistakes aren’t so forgiving as with synthetic materials—but also as a way to establish a respect for the resource and where it comes from.

“All our ancestors, when they make art, [everything] is utilized,” said Shorty. “Everything is organic. When you dispose it, it goes back to mother earth and it is then reused—animals reuse it.”

He said the connection that he and other artists have with natural materials extends towards that of the earth and the life within it.

“In today’s society, artists make things that are un-reusable,” he admonished. “It just sits there.”

Daniela Olagaray, a third-year sculpture major at ACAD, found the demonstration especially pertinent.

She said she found the act of connecting or “feeling” the horn while carving a good learning experience.

“I think it’s important for artists like [Shorty] to come to schools and inspire us to feel the material and … respect it,” she said.

“It allows further possibilities with what we can do, what we can create.”

For Shorty, the craft is also cathartic, as it bridges a spiritual connection between that of himself and his ancestors. It’s very much a personal endeavour.

And, while he does take expenses to account, as “artists have to think about money, too,” it isn’t so much as an issue for him—his partner Froehling manages most of their expenses.

“I just carve,” he smiles.

“And that makes me happy.”

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