Northerners get creative during their evacuation

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As I evacuated from Yellowknife to Edzo and Fort Simpson and back again, I collected broken glass, ceramics, and other curiosities I found along the way.

You may be looking at the photo below and thinking, “That looks like a pile of junk” – and you would be right dear reader – but maybe they are also craft supplies?

I collected these items in hopes of creating some sort of art piece, perhaps a found mosaic. (I’ve also been saving plastic bottle caps and bottle caps for the past year, like a trash-hoarding squirrel with crafty ambitions.)

A collection of pieces of glass, ceramics and other objects and ends collected during the evacuation from Yellowknife. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio

My artistic ambitions have made me wonder how many other evacuees have done what I like to call “evacuation art” while away from home, or who have been inspired by a future artistic, musical, or writing project.

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I launched the appeal and many Northerners shared the beautiful things they had made and the stories behind them.

From stunning beadwork to ceramics and the coolest pair of moccasins you’ve ever seen, here are the creative projects some evacuees are working on.

Sarah Komarnisky

Sarah Komarnisky grabbed her sketchbook and watercolors before Yellowknife evacuated and was drawing the entire trip.

“I can’t call myself an artist, but I love drawing,” she said. “I started bringing him on vacations and things like that, just to kind of document what we’re doing.”

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Sarah plans to use the art she made, along with artwork and written contributions from other evacuees, to create a zine about the collective experience. Once it’s finished, she said she’ll probably put copies in small free libraries around the city, similar to the Collective Nouns Project, a project by Sarah Swan and Mike Mitchell.

“It’s a different way to reflect on this experience,” she said.

“I just hope it serves as a souvenir or something for Yellowknights to remember and remember.”

Sarah pointed to the post-apocalyptic novel “Station Eleven,” in which itinerant actors performing Shakespeare adopt the slogan “Because survival is not enough,” itself a quote from a Star Trek episode. Sarah said that one of the topics of the book is to highlight the importance of art during difficult times, to exchange experiences and adapt.

“And that’s part of it for me, too,” she said.

Anyone interested in contributing to her project can send requests to Sarah on Facebook or via email.

Paintings of Sarah Komarnisky during the evacuation flight.

Qilulak Arngnaq

“I evacuated to Inuvik and stopped at Just Ravine to look at some nice supplies,” Kililak wrote.

“Some of the fall colors of the tundra inspired me to start embroidering for the first time since giving birth to my son two years ago, and I couldn’t stop. It’s been helpful to redirect my anxiety into making beautiful things.”

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Qillulaaq Arngna’naaq necklaces have been beaded since leaving Yellowknife.

Kay Keenan

Kaye Keenan made this sturdy NWT pattern from dollar store cross stitch kits, to make the project accessible to people who may not have their own craft supplies on hand.

“This free pattern is dedicated to my fellow evacuees from the Northwest Territories from the fires we are facing during the summer of 2023,” Kay wrote on Instagram.

You can find the style and more of Kaye’s work on Ko-fi. She also has an Etsy shop.

Details from Kaye Keenan’s strong NWT cross-stitch pattern.
Digital image of Kaye Keenan’s NWT Strong Cross Stitch Pattern.

Rajeev Rawat

“My wife, Monique Robitaille, was able to arrange a stained glass workshop with acclaimed Lac La Biche artist Noella Somerville,” Rajeev Rawat wrote.

“Our family (two daughters, Inya Rawat and Sunara Rawat) and another family – Candace Lee, Imogen Lee and Eleanor Lee – participated.”

Mushrooms, birds, cats, oh my! Rajeev Rawat shared a photo of the Rawat family’s stained glass creations.

Heather Seltzer

“I just finished this adorable pair of slippers for my boyfriend who stayed in Yellowknife during the evacuation,” Heather wrote.

“And yes…that’s Deadpool riding a unicorn.”

Moccasins made by Heather Seltzer for her partner during the evacuation.

Katie A

“I designed a new embroidered butterfly brooch during the evacuation as a thank you to both my cousin, who had my cats and me throughout the entire evacuation process, and my aunt, for proposing to her when I asked the whole family about it,” Katie writes. “Anyone in Edmonton would have A space for me and my cat.”

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“I call them sun and fire (after Cousin Sandy) and moon and water (after Aunt Marilyn). Both can be destructive forces—I mean the elements in this case, not my family, but that’s also true—but we’ll always persevere.

Katie continued: “Although the eviction process was a stressful and stressful event, my cousin Sandy was my bright side. I met my first cousin, who was isolated from my father’s side for the first time after 26 hours in the car. She is a beautiful, funny, and wonderful woman who welcomed me, a stranger (with blood ties yes, but still weird) and two traumatized cats, into her life and home with no question and lots of love.

“I am grateful for this opportunity to meet her and some of her wonderful extended family. They and my friends have made this experience so much better than it would otherwise have been. Thank you Sandy!”

Katie provided this photo of the beaded butterfly brooch she made during the evacuation.
Katie provided this photo of the beaded butterfly brooch she made during the evacuation.

Catherine Fairbairn

“I was lucky enough to be able to spend the eviction process with my dad in Kamloops, and my mom has a lovely little pottery studio downstairs,” Katherine wrote.

“Inspired by Yellowknife and the things I saw on my trip (I was on vacation when I started this trip), I decided to try something new! I’m making wall tiles to put in little hanging shadowboxes.

Tiles made by Catherine Fairbairn before being fired and glazed.

Corey Francis

Corey Francis wrote this poem on September 1st.

our house

Our city sat quietly awaiting its fate
Empty, abandoned, emerging state
No cars on the roads, moving senselessly in line
Should be back to normal – 09/23/9.

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The days are all mixed up. Whitewashing of illusion
They would ask us to go home, in a state of annoying confusion
To a land that is still burning… and hurting… hurting
Is it too early?! Is it all in vain?!

All the push to return to a very cold, empty place
But protecting everything we love and see?
Mother Earth sheds her centenary skin
To clean up all the mischief, Saipan was brought in

I longed to be home, to dwell in our comforts
But the work is not over, and they still carry the burden
The beast is not gone, oh no! It’s not over yet
I sure hope we don’t all go away thinking we’ve won

This bastard will burn during the snow months
Cold -40. While the cold wind blows
Be vigilant, wise and aware
From everything that surrounds us, even if it seems empty

Homecoming. 20,000 souls descend
In a city barely ready for reform
They can’t understand
Madness will mix
With heartache instead
But our heroes drove
The real way to compete
A future born once…

About love and loyalty between women and men
To protect our homeland, now and ever since
From the first call to arms, do not hesitate
To step up and face fear, not many can relate
You want to be on the front lines and fight until the end…
We can’t thank you enough for the sacrifice, we stress.

Going home now seems like a distant dream
Will it happen on time or will everything go downhill
The reality is that chaos will ensue
Down to the last mile, in the last minute or two

Be thankful that our country is still standing tall
With the fire still in place, for now, autumn is ushering in
As winter approaches, there is a knock on the door
Will it help our plight or will we need more.

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September 6th…a day of joy
The screams must have been heard, such a powerful sound
A family of people, dating back to our north
our house. Our strength, emanated.

Robin Scott

“Willy and I are enjoying a Sunday afternoon picnic (making art in pubs) at Pint on Whyte Ave in Edmonton, where they give out a free meal to evacuees,” Rubin wrote.

“It’s not Black Knight, but they have great food and service here.”

Robyn Scott shared this photo, which shows anywhere that could be an art studio.

(tags for translation) arts

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