Marlene Kelly

My okomaw

Artist Statement

Tansi, I am 4th generation Cree-Metis beadwork artist. My ancestral home is Ft. Chipewyan & Ft. MacMurray AB. I am privileged to live in the unceded territory of the K’omoks First Nation.

My okômâw talks to me in my dreams. She speaks of medicines, life lessons, cultural ways, ceremony and gives advice when I pray for guidance. I was only in my 20’s when my okômâw first visited me in a dream. We sat beading in front of her tipi on a warm summer evening, the golden prairie grasses blowing in a light breeze. She spoke in Cree. At that time in my life I did not understand our language. For my benefit, her words were translated through subtitles in English. A feeling of enlightenment and pure love brightened in me as I woke from what would be the first of many dreams to come.

During the isolation of this pandemic, I had many quiet hours to sit and reflect on my life; my family, my achievements, my failures…. All the good things I have in my life. My mask was created through guidance from my okômâw. “Tell your story”, she said, “You are enough. Show all you are thankful for, all you have been through and have overcome”. This is my story…..

The fabric for my mask was pieces of fabric I had left over from my drum bag. I drum and sing with my sacred sisters. My love for them is unconditional and I am very humbled and proud to have each one in my life.

The cotton lining inside is patterned with a Metis sash design. The ribbons not only symbolize the colours given to me after my naming ceremony but also the ribbons used on the colourful skirts and shirt that are prominent in our rich Metis heritage.

The fire in the middle the first spark and fire that lives within every one of us.

The sun and the moon remind me that there is always something to be thankful for at the end of the day and what a blessing it is to wake with the each new dawn.

The two blonde women sitting in regalia facing each other represent the young woman I was and the kokum I am today. They symbolize my earth journey through the colonial world and the aboriginal community. A Cree Metis woman with Irish ancestry searching for acceptance on a path of oppression from both worlds.

There was a dark time in my life where my life light was almost extinguished voluntarily. The white swan-wing fan was gifted to me the same night my life would have been forfeited. I am humbled and blessed Creator had other plans for me and trusted me with swan medicine. The smudge bowl holds the sage and sweetgrass I use for smudging and thanking Creator for my life.

My daughters are represented by the fox and the rabbit. My first born daughter, the fox, brought me the medicine of awareness. I was enlightened to the joys and tears of motherhood. I began to understand what my own mom meant when she said, “you won’t understand until you have children of your own.” She also taught me about being the protector of my family. There still isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for my girls.
My youngest daughter, the rabbit, taught me to turn my fearful attitude into courage as she fought and beat cancer in her teenage years. I learned not to let myself be overcome by fear over the things that were beyond my control.

Cree originated from the stars; we are the Star People.The Seven Sisters star constellation acknowledges my Cree ancestry. All my relatives and ancestors watch and guide me from there. I am here to learn, lowered down on grandmother spider’s web. I will return to the Seven Sisters to sit among my relatives again.

The green star in the constellation is in remembrance of my dad. He crossed over in 2018. The green represents our proud Irish ancestry on his side.

The hummingbird is my mom. She taught me from a young age how to care for others and how to care for myself. She taught me that sometimes life can stop you dead in your track but you can still make the most of your circumstances by taking a step back, going forward, getting fired up or calming down.
Lastly, the bottom of the mask has many semi precious stones sewn on. These represent the good red road I try to walk as humbly and softly as I can. I have always said to myself, You are going to be an ancestor someday, what will be your contribution?” This is mine.

Marlene Kelly  My okomaw

111 Bear Street, Banff, Alberta, T1L 1A3, Canada

T: 1 403 762 2291   

E: info [at] whyte.org

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The Whyte Museum gratefully acknowledges the support of The Peter and Catharine Whyte Foundation and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts

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