Creator and maker behind Shinli’ Niintaih
Elaine Alexie is a member of Teetł’it Gwich’in First Nation and from Fort McPherson, NWT. She currently lives in Amiskwacîwâskahikan in Treaty 6 and Métis homelands. She is a curator, beadwork and sewing artist, and is completing a PhD on Dene material culture at the University of Alberta. Her research examines the preservation of traditional Gwich’in knowledge and artistic practice through an analysis of Gwich'in beadwork traditions in several international museums. Although she has been a maker most of her life, she began her research journey visiting museum collections in 2012, a practice which informs her creative process. Through research and practice, she focuses on the revival of Gwich’in material culture and works closely with her mom, Dorothy Alexie, and other knowledge holders from her community continuing Gwich’in hide tanning and sewing traditions.
Shinli’ Niintaih means ‘Strong Hands’ in the Teetł’it Gwich’in dialect. Inspired by Elaine’s mom, Dorothy, the term highlights the centrality of experienced hands in the act of creation. In context, the Gwich’in phrase also implies a process of building of character, spirit, and physical strength—by working with our hands, we become strong. Elaine carries this philosophy in her work. Striving to share and uplift the knowledge of her ancestors, Elaine honours them by keeping Gwich’in traditions, stories, and knowledge rooted in the Gwich’in nation’s past, but also relevant to the present.