Aaron York

Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation

Juried Artist since 2017
Image of Aaron York.
Aaron York

Aaron York is an internationally celebrated  traditional artist, educator, public speaker and mentor.  He is the owner and founder of the Red Child Studio of Fine Wabanaki Arts.  Although best known for his skills as a birchbark canoe artisan, he has also revived several other rare Wabanaki art forms such as brides boxes and highly embellished crooked knives. His pieces are of equal complexity to the ancestral examples known in museums and private collections. 

Image of Birchbark Moose Call.
Birchbark Moose Call

As a result, his arts can be found in museums and high-end private collections resting aside pieces of Wabanaki greats such as Tomah Joseph and Eugene Francis of the 1800s. Aaron’s arts have earned many prestigious publications as well placement Hollywood films, commercials, documentaries and radio worldwide.

In 2005, Aaron was asked by the Ministikwan Cree First Nation in Saskatchewan to go west and help them rediscover their traditional canoe forms.  Since then, he has worked extensively with several western First nations in Canada to revive their aboriginal watercraft.  In return for his teaching out west, he was immersed in all other aspects of Algonquian culture that he had been longing to learn.  Aaron attributes being well rounded culturally to traveling to cousin nations where he found missing pieces of his nation’s traditions that were lost to colonization.  Aaron now has strong family ties in the treaty 6 and treaty 7 regions of Saskatchewan and Alberta.  In short, his time and bond with his western Cree cousins was life altering, and the quality of his art is what he attributes to making that relationship possible.

Artist Statement

“Culture is not inherited, it is learned.”  We do not arrive from the womb with the ability to speak our ancestral language or know our culture.  It takes only one generation of failing to teach our children their culture for devastating cultural erosion to occur.  As an eastern Native I know this all too well!  This is what drives me to work so hard to create art that is “over the top” but well within the parameters of regionally specific, traditional Wabanaki art forms.  Such art forms that are rare, labor intensive and have a life-long learning curve.  I am trying to do my part to heal the toxic affect that cultural erosion has caused our people.

Material culture is a language! Its a non-verbal language that transcends the limits of what we can convey through speech or written word.  Material cultural crosses racial divides, political boundaries, and time itself.  Material culture gives us a direct form of connection to our ancestors, other living beings, and the Aki (earth) itself.  When I give thanks to a beautiful canoe birch for the materials it provides me I make a promise to turn its skin into a timeless piece of beauty.  The quality of my art is my greatest giving of thanks to the plants, animals and Aki that give to me.  I am bound through an ancient traditional agreement with my plant, animal and human relations to do my absolute best with their gifts.  This is what I offer the world, my nation, my family.  

This is the non-verbal I message I encapsulate in my art to be understood by my descendants hundreds of years from now:  “Do your very best.  Always stay humble enough to improve your skill! Your hands are speaking for your people!  You are telling the world what our values are!  You are Wabanaskiya!   You are a human representative of Aki’s beauty, health, and a celebration of life itself!  This is the only thing you inherit! The rest is up to you to show just how much beauty you can convey through good hands, just as we did, and my grandmothers and grandfathers did before me.  Love your culture.  Love yourself as much as we love you grandchild and pass this message on through your art the way we passed this on to you!” 

Mkwe Awasis (Red Child)

Aaron York

Contact Info

Address: 120 Elmwood Drive, Barre VT 05641

Email: mkweawasis@gmail.com

Exhibits

2005

Fawn Skin quiver, Permanent Collection, Odanak Museum, Odanak FN, QC.

2008

Bride Box (bent wood box elaborate chip carved), Flemming Museum, permanent collections Burlington, VT.

2007-present

Birchbark Canoe on permanent exhibit, Abbe Museum, Acadia National Park Location, Acadia National Park, ME.

Events and Workshops

2003  

  • Canadian Canoe Museum, prep assistance on 36′ fur trade canoe, Peterborough ON
  • Odanak Homecoming, canoe build demo, QC, Canada

2004

Onsite build for “Gifts of the Forest,” McCord Museum, , 2004 Montreal, QC, Canada.

2004-2005

Birchbark canoe class, Wooden Boat School, Brooklin, ME.

2005

Birchbark canoe class, Ministikwan First Nation, 2005 and 2016, Saskatchewan, Canada.

2006

  • Birchbark canoe class, Cold Lake First Nations,Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada
  • Onsite Build of Ocean canoe, Penobscot Marine Museum, Searsport, ME.

2007

  • Birchbark canoe class, Cold Lake First Nations,Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada
  • “Champlain Canoe Build,” Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, Vergennes, VT

2008

  • Birchbark canoe class, Cold Lake First Nations,Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada
  • Birchbark canoe class, Blue Quills First Nations University, St Paul, Alberta Canada

2009

Take A Kid Trapping Program, Youth Birchbark Canoe Class, Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories, Canada

2016

Birchbark canoe class, Ministikwan First Nation, 2005 and 2016, Saskatchewan

Featured in Publications

  • American Indian Arts Magazine, 2006
  • Encyclopedia of American Indians, 2007
  • Kent, Jeanne Morningstar. Wabanaki Interviews. The Visual Language of Wabanaki Art, History Press. 2014. p 87-97
  • Montreal Gazette, 2001
  • Mocotaugan, The art and history of the crooked knife, 2005
  • Men at War Series, Northeastern American Indians 2004
  • Wabanaki Artists, 2012
  • National Film Board of Canada, Alanis Obomsawin, 2006
  • BBC, 2001

Film and Media

Reger, Deborah. Moccasin Tracks . Recorded March 2017. WGDR 91.1 FM

List Awards: 

Significant Cultural Benefit Status, Government of Canada, achieved 2006

Affiliations

  • Vermont Abenaki Artists Association
  • Blue Quills First Nations University, St Paul, Alberta Canada
  • Ministikwan Cree First Nation, Island Lake, Treaty 6, Saskatchewan Canada
  • Cold Lake First Nation, Cold Lake, Treaty 6, First Nation Canada
  • Kujjuuaq Inuit, Makivik Corporation, JBNQA Treaty, Nunavik Canada
  • ᑳᓂᔮᓯᕁ kâniyâsihk Culture Camps, Island Lake Cree First Nation