My name is Phyllis Poitras-Jarrett. I am a contemporary Métis artist living in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Poitras is my mom's maiden name; she is a proud Métis matriarch. Both my Kokum and Mooshum's homelands were near the Red River. Jarrett is my loving father's Scottish-English name, only with us in spirit. I graduated from the Saskatchewan Urban Natives Teaching program and retired from a rewarding career of teaching after 28 year. I now have plenty of time to create art once again.
My art celebrates traditional Indigenous worldview and harmony with all sources of life. Animals, plants, insects, land, water and air hold equal value on earth. We must be mindful of our daily footprints by respecting and caring for Mother Earth. These life elements are referred to as “All My Relations'' by Indigenous people. The deep respect that Indigenous people have with nature is woven into kinship systems, as with clans, in storytelling and in ceremonial practices and has been present for thousands of years. In Canada we have over 50 Indigenous Nations with diverse beliefs and practices unique to their Nation’s cultures and to individuals within those communities. Some individuals within each Nation embrace traditional spiritual practices that overlap with contemporary religious beliefs.
In my art the Spirit animals symbolize the qualities and values that every person has within themselves. Embracing these values will create conditions for our lights to shine bright on our life journeys. A mindful, kind loving society generates more energy and space to be present. The result is more time to look beyond ourselves and notice that Mother Nature has always provided us with abundant gifts of clean air, water, and food to keep us alive. For our health and survival we must realize that taking care of Mother Earth and her gifts is a priority.
My art also highlights diversity in nature represented by animal motifs and colourful symmetrical Métis floral beadwork. Each bead, flower and animal is part of something greater. The grey background and white flowers represent the greater universe. Hidden within each painting is a glass spirit bead, which in traditional Métis beadwork was an off colour or misplaced bead. The spirit bead symbolizes humanity's disruptive imperfections. This reminds us that each day is an opportunity to make improvements in ourselves for the betterment of “All of Our Relations”. When humankind recognizes that we are the stewards of Mother Earth we can begin restoring health, harmony and balance in our lives and the natural world.
My art, like most artists, is shaped by my experiences from my past and present, my cultural background and my love for nature. I am a self taught artist and have been naturally creative since childhood. I was raised on a farm in Saskatchewan a mile from Last Mountain Lake. I come from a large family and I am one of six siblings. As farm children we worked incredibly hard, we were farm hands. My escape was drawing upstairs in front of a small window. I remember it being filled with an inch of beautiful frosty designs in the winter. During the summer my mom was constantly wondering where I snuck off too. I would hike across the countryside alone for hours, always in search of a glimpse of animals, birds, insects and beautiful wildflowers. One of my favourite discoveries in the spring was a chrysalis. I would often take them home to watch the cycle of life stages. I would let them free after being in awe of the emerging gorgeous butterflies and moths. I felt like one with nature and the land and had our farm dogs to keep me safe on my ventures.
My Kokum's (Celina Parisien - maiden name) creativity and determination inspired my art. She lived in a two room house on Jackrabbit Street on the road allowance in Lebret, Saskatchewan. There she brought up 11 children with her husband Grégoire Poitras. Years later during the winter months she lived with us, as her home lacked amenities. Lovingly we would string beads for her gorgeous necklaces. For our efforts she gave us a nickel per string, which would go full circle in an evening game of rummy.
I also acknowledge the Seven Grandfather Teachings within my art. They are the most commonly shared values across Indigenous Nations in Canada. The teachings originated with the Anishinaabe people. This belief system provides structure and guidance so one's life is balanced mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Humility is represented by the wolf, courage by the bear, honesty by either the raven or the sabe, wisdom by the beaver, Love by the eagle and truth by the turtle.
When viewing my art individuals may feel some connections as they reflect on their own personal values and qualities within themselves and their circles. They may have an emotional reaction to the art that reminds them of the strength of a loved one, the wisdom of a community leader or the lightheartedness of children playing and laughing. Indigenous people who honour clan systems may have a cultural connection to a specific animal. Others that have had an experience with an animal constantly crossing their path or feel a special attachment to one may connect to that particular spirit animal. If you can find a little piece of yourself within my art, it has fulfilled its purpose. I created the descriptions to embody parts of each animal's natural ways of being and personified them as if they were speaking to you as guides. The descriptions and meanings for each art piece are only a starting point.
Métis people have been known as the "Flower Beadwork People”, a name given to them by First Nations people. Beading was often a time to socialize and share stories. Some designs can be traced back to specific families. It's amazing how our Kokum's could sew such intricate symmetrical designs often by candle light. Today many Métis beadwork crafters are reclaiming our beading tradition. Métis women once took pride in embellishing their partner's and children's clothing and accessories with brightly coloured floral beadwork. Many of these artifacts are hidden away in museum collections tagged with the wrong Nation as the maker and with unknown as the artist. After the resistance of 1885 many women stopped beading as it was frowned upon and often forbidden. Families were also struggling to survive and beads became difficult to access. Thankfully this cultural practice has made a comeback amongst all Indigenous people. Our ancestor's gorgeous symmetrical designs are still present today and are crafted on clothing, pouches, covers and jewelry. Métis floral beadwork is our way of celebrating our Kokum's and giving thanks to the plant world that continues to provide us with an abundance of food, medicine and joy.
Art will always bring people together to celebrate our unique cultures and create a better understanding of our past and present realities. I sign my art with P. Poitras-Jarrett honouring both my Métis mother and my Scottish-English father.
I am dedicating this series to our Kokums and Aunties, our present day Métis beaders in their quest to reclaim our beautiful beadwork and to our Michif language teachers that are determined to reclaim our language. Most importantly I am dedicating this series to all of our Indigenous ancestors who suffered unbelievable injustices through the years. Their incredible resiliency and will to survive is present in our children today in both strength and love.
Thank you for letting me share my art with you!
Family History & Stories
When Mooshum Grégoire Poitras was a child his family travelled with several other Métis families to hunt in the surrounding area of St. Francis Xavier, Manitoba (before it was Manitoba) and Turtle Mountain in the US within the Little Shell Reserve (where they also lived). They migrated with the Buffalo, as that was the main source of food at that time. After the resistance of 1885 many more Métis families settled in with their Chippewa friends at the Little Shell Reserve to escape unwarranted prosecution. Some Métis families had previous kinship ties with the Chippewa through marriage and friendship decades before 1885.
Mooshum's family along with several other Métis and Chippewa negotiated the McCumber Agreement of 1892 which was to be a treaty to settle land claims for the Chippewa and Métis. Unfortunately it was not a very successful Treaty due to the US government's constant executive orders, enabling settlers to take over most of the land. The Métis people's connection to Canada and growing population was a threat to the American government. They enforced laws that weakened any treaty claims for all that lived there. At that time if you were a blended Métis-Chippewa family your Métis partner was forced to move off the landbase. Whole families relocated mostly in Montana, so they wouldn't be separated.
Around this time the Poitras families that lived with their Chippewa friends and family members were known as the Marten Clan. Animal clan names (doodems) in the Chippewa community are a part of their cultural practices. The clan system recognized the special qualities of group members and families that lived on Little Shell Reserve and in other Ojibwe Nations. Members could only marry into other clans. There were originally 7 clans. Later that grew to 21 clans. "Each clan was ascribed different characteristics, and members of those clans were thought to exemplify these characteristics. The people of the Marten Clan were hunters, food gathers and warriors of the people. Long ago, warriors fought to defend their village or hunting territory. They became known as master strategists in planning the defense of their people." - Kade M. Ferris M.S.
More Family History
My Mooshum's Uncle Pierre Poitras was a Counselor in the Manitoba Provisional Government. After Riel's arrest all members of the Provisional Government were beaten, even though they founded Manitoba for Canada. Nor was it recognized that the Métis people's presence and patrol of the area prevented the U.S. from claiming the land. The misinformation coming from John A. McDonald and his colleagues enticed the settlers to buy plots of land and move west to take over the Métis landbase and homes. The Métis were resisting this action, there was no Rebellion. Pierre was an elderly man and did not fair well after being beaten and dragged by a horse. During this time the army with unleashed power from the government took it upon themselves to pillage Métis homes and assault their women. The Poitras family history is diverse and honourable. However there were many sad moments in our history.
My Kokum's family lineage is connected to the Parisiens which are equally as honourable. Presently I am researching this part of my ancestry.
Another interesting fact is the main road that runs through the heart of Turtle Mountain in North Dakota where my Mooshum, Grégoire Poitras and his family also once lived is named Jack Rabbit Road. I believe the name was carried with the Métis to Lebret where they settled on the road allowance and named the road Jackrabbit Street.
Mooshum's father, Modeste Poitras was a buffalo hunter and family stories passed down suggest he was killed during one of their yearly hunting expeditions in the Turtle Mountain area. I would like to do further research to verify this story, as this was not a peaceful time to be Indigenous. Many Métis men were beaten and killed due to colonization. Our ancestor's resisted MacDonald's brutal and underhanded invasion of our families homes. The Red River community was a thriving community that was rich with community love and resources. Our families' wealth and community was stolen. Years of poverty, historical misinformation and discrimination would follow this time. MacDonald can be compared to the present day Trump. It was only in 2019 that people started to wake up and his statues removed from public places.
Many Métis families spoke several Indigenous languages. The Poitras and Parisien families spoke Southern Michif. Many also spoke French, English, Cree and the Ojibwa Chippewa language. In the Lebret Valley Michif and Cree were widely spoken. However the children of the Métis families were not allowed to speak their languages at the Catholic run schools. Unfortunately it was lost to many of the next generations. Presently Métis are slowly reclaiming their lost languages.
My mother remembers the Catholic nuns visiting her home when she was a child. My Kokum hid her in the closet and asked her not to speak. She feared they would take her away to the convent to live or to the residential school. My Kokum was highly religious and prayed everyday with her Rosary in her hand, but still feared for her children's wellbeing. Many Métis people also were forced to attend Residential Schools.
I often pondered as a youth why my Kokum's home was so different from my Scottish/English grandparent's. My European grandparents had all of the amenities, a flushing toilet, running water, a beautiful four bedroom house with a veranda. My Kokum's home had two rooms, an outhouse, no running water, no flush toilet, no electricity or heating system. I still remember the taste of her fried bannock made on her wood burning stove. That same stove provided her with warmth in the winters. This was in the 70's before her passing. At that same time most newcomer (immigrants) homes were modernized. Several years later I learned the knowledge of the past through my Métis history classes at SUNTEP, as elders would not talk about it and it was not taught in mainstream school. Our people's culture, land and homes were stolen away forcing them to relocate with their families, more than one time in some cases. It was near impossible to regain it all back due to the new society's (newcomers) suppression against our people. However my mom always speaks of how happy they were living in Lebret. The old ones' pain and suffering was not reflected onto their children, which really helped the Métis people survive. Métis were and are still resilient even after having their livelihoods and homes stripped away.
Evolution of My Art
Since childhood I have always celebrated life through art. Growing up on a farm was quite isolated. Then I would draw for hours in front of a frost filled window. It gave me some quiet time to myself. I have 5 siblings and my parents always had several of my cousins living with us to help their families out.
Being a self taught artist in the digital era is beneficial and numerous online tutorials provided me with a wealth of knowledge. I have made it a point to self teach myself in several different mediums. Presently my focus is mixed media acrylic paintings with animal motifs and textured Métis beadwork. This series of paintings has several layers and steps creating depth and captivating interest. It highlights the colorful beauty and symmetry of Métis beadwork
I have created several backdrops for school musicals and community events. I was proud to donate art for silent auctions, one for the Early Learning Centre of a turtle. During my career I helped organize and co-presented several workshops to integrate children's Indigenous stories with art. I was fortunate and thankful to have the Saskatchewan Arts Board award me with the Indigenous art grant in 2018 to create a 108”x48” triptych with mixed media techniques and my floral artwork. And at present a 2019-2020 Arts Board grant to continue my love of art and painting. With the present Spirit Animal Series of paintings. I also recently produced a 5 minute video with the support of the Canadian Arts Council. This was my first experience with animation. I have a whole new appreciation for animators and it's fair to say I am not one. I have designed art for the Regina Downtown Business District on several traffic boxes and door art. One of a turtle that represents Turtle Island, it’s embellished with Métis beadwork, you can view it in front of the Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina. It feels fantastic to Indigenize local areas with art that represents the beauty of Metis culture.
My most recent back alley artwork is directly behind the Copper Kettle business. This is wrapped with a digital image of three of my Métis Spirit Animals. As well, it was exhilarating to create a project for Sask. Cultural Days 2019 and Articulate Ink. I carved a 2’x4’ buffalo running through the valley for their steamroller printing event, titled, “Where the Buffalo Roamed”. Further being included in the Art Now exhibition with the support of Sakewewak First Nations Artists' Collective was an important stepping stone.
I will be highlighting the Michif word for each animal in the descriptions of my art. My hope is that both Metis and other cultural backgrounds will learn some of our language. As you know many Indigenous people including myself lost their languages over the years due to forced assimilation.
In addition to being an artist and designer I graduated from the Saskatchewan Native Teaching Program ( Suntep) and I am now a retired teacher of 28 years. I have endless ideas and plans to continue my growth and drive to create art throughout my life and to represent the beauty of the Métis beadwork through art. This new phase of my life gives me the opportunity to focus on my love of sharing my Métis inspired art. I eventually plan on producing a children's book with the inclusion of our Michif language. Michif is slowly making a resurgence and I myself aspire to learn Michif. Many of our traditional teachings were not passed down for fear of retribution. However the resiliency of the Métis people is inspiring and we are slowly reclaiming the lost parts of our culture.
I’ve been a busy bee during this pandemic (Literally I just started in January 2020 with this series) and I’m also creating an artist gift product line that will represent the “Flower Beadwork People''. Métis inspired gifts are few in our gift shops across the Nation and I would like to help improve that situation through my artwork and creativity. It is important that our vibrant culture is represented in a positive light. It is a wonderful feeling when an Métis person acquires an art product to proudly enjoy it in their homes. My 83 year old mom had tears in her eyes when I gave her a gift that represented her culture. My art and design reflects our Métis identity and helps preserve it for future generations. Artwork will always bring people together to celebrate our unique cultures and create a better understanding of the past and present realities.
Sending love and hope to the world during this pandemic,
Website: https://www.metisspiritart.ca/ https://www.instagram.com/metisspiritart/
Some interesting facts about my family history:
CV Phyllis Jarrett-Poitras - Indigenous Contemporary Artist
My contemporary art is influenced by my rich Metis culture of both present and past. Metis people are known as the “Flower Beadwork People” and I depict both traditional and created abstract floral designs within my art. I consider myself an experienced artist, yet continuing to emerge and learn. I am a registered member of the Metis Nation of Saskatchewan.
May 2022.- I am honoured to have OSAC accept my submission for 15 of 30 of my Spirit animal paintings in a traveling tour in several venues across Saskatchewan for two years starting in the fall of 2022. These pieces each are 36"x40" celebrating nature and Métis Beadwork.
May 2022 - I am honoured to have an installation of two of my artworks on the outside of Carmichael Outreach Inc. I created each piece to be uplifting for the individuals seeking support from Carmichael.
March 2022 - Provided artwork for Royal Society of Canada for the cover of their annual report. https://rsc-src.ca/en/covid-19
March 2022 - Designed a Land Acknowledgement plaque for the new Sask. Cooperators Building
March 2022 - Partnered as an artist with https://www.kiikew.ca/ “Kiikew brings Indigenous community members together with assessment providers to gain feedback, remove bias, and create equitable, culturally valid testing experiences for Indigenous students.” Founded by Dr. Sara Goulet.
February 2022 to 2024 Provided ten Spirit Animal Images to The High Commission of Canada in Australia to assist in their Windows to the World Day. The art will teach about Canadian animals and their connections to Indigenous culture. This project was canceled in 2021 due to the pandemic. However they are going ahead with their plans in 2022. They will also be celebrating World Wildlife Day at their Consulate in Australia and promoting wildlife and Indigenous worldview in an educational project for younger students.
February 4 to February 13 2022 - I created art for the Regina Downtown Business Districts first annual outside art gallery and Winter Frost Festival
February 17, 2022 to March 17, 2022 - Exhibition at Sâkêwêwak for their members gallery show.
Feb 2022 to March 2022 - Exhibition at Neutral Ground here in Regina.
October 2021 - Presented a virtual art lesson zoomed to children ages 6 to 12. They each created a buffalo banner. We discussed facts about the Buffalo, Métis Beadwork & the importance of the Buffalo to Indigenous people.
July 2022 - Designed a large 6 foot banner as part of the Footprints Art Project for the Regina Downtown Business District to Commemorate the loss of so many little one at residential schools and to support our survivors.
June 2021 - 10 of my wildlife Spirit Animal images were highlighted in the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative's annual report.
April 2021 - Beaver Spirit art will be included in UK ecologist Hugh Warwick’s next nature book. (https://www.hughwarwick.com/ concerns we have in Canada. He is presently writing a book on beavers.
April 2021 - A 5 time recipient of The City of Regina Traffic Box and Alley Door Art Program, https://reginadowntown.ca/trafficboxart/ This one will be located on the corner of Albert St. and Victoria Ave. Soon it will be adorned with Spirit Animals, Metis floral beadwork & Michif words
January 2021 - Commissioned to create 5 digital art tutorials for SaskCulture for the DreamBrokers program which provides programming for inner city children.
Sask Culture Spring Edition 2021 article & front page highlights of digital art tutorials for at risk kids https://issuu.com/saskcultureengage/docs/engagespring2021-web
January 2021- Presented a zoom art tutorial for Métis Dot Art (pointillism). Organized by Native Women's Association of Canada through the MMWC Resiliency Lodge in Quebec. Several women across Canada came together for the session.
January 2021 - I was fortunate to have my painting, "Honouring the Buffalo: featured on the University of Regina Arts 2021 note card.
November 2020 - I was grateful to accept the Indigenous Art grant from SASKARTS to complete my Metis Spirit Animal Series that are each 36"x40" in size. Further to help people gain a better understanding of the Flower Beadwork People's amazing floral designs and their connection to all living things on Mother Earth.
November 2020 - I was very grateful to be featured on the U of Regina Arts holiday greeting card for 2020. Metis Spirit Rabbit Holiday Greeting Card
November 2020 - Featured in Dan Levy's (amazing human being and star on Schitts Creek TV series) holiday favourites list. He made a point to educate himself about Indigenous history to present after taking a UofA course online during the pandemic a must watch. Indigenous Modules on You Tube
November 2020 - I completed a short video animation for the Canadian Arts Council. It is 5 mins in length and includes my Spirit Animals motifs. The concept idea is how the pandemic affected the animals, people and environment both positive and negative. It's fair to say that I have a whole new appreciation for animators. This experience led me to believe I need more practice and time to learn in this area. Thank you CAC for giving me this opportunity.
November 2020 - My Metis Spirit Beaver was highlighted in a Scottish conservation calendar to save and bring back beavers to their natural habitat located in Scotland.
Alley Door Art 2020 - My "Metis Spirit Animal art was chosen to be installed for the Alley Art project to promote positive cultural relations. You can find my Spirit, Moose, Buffalo and Deer in the alley directly behind the Copper Kettle in the alley. I love this idea!
August 2020 Canadian Hello Magazine August special edition.
August 2020 My "Metis Spirit Animal" designed products are being sold at With These Hands here in Regina.
May 2020 I am honoured to have my art hanging at the Native Women's Association of Canada Resiliency Lodge in Quebec.
Dec. 2020 - Sask. Arts Board Grant 2020 to create six 36"x40" mixed paintings for a series of 20 plus "Metis Spirit Animals" I am presently working on. These are being created and painted during the pandemic of 2020 --- to who knows.
Projects/Grant Awards - Sept. 2019 - Sâkêwêwak Artists’ Collective Gallery -Chose four of my 30”x 48” mixed paintings to display at the 2019 Art Now Saskatchewan Fine Art Fair.
August 2019 - Sask. Cultural Days Event/Art Submission/Articulate Ink. My art was chosen by Articulate Ink for a Sask. Culture Event depicts a buffalo running across the Saskatchewan plains near the Qu'appelle Valley. I carved Metis floral beadwork sprouting up from the ground. It was carved onto a 2’x4’ woodblock. I helped ink the woodblock and it was rolled over with a steamroller on Scarth St. in Regina during Cultural Days to create a paper print. The steamroller printing event was organized by Articulate Ink. Loved It!
Dec. 2018 - Sask. Arts Board Grant 2018 to create a 108”x 48” mixed media canvas collage Painting (Triptych) Titled “Valley Tranquility” A representation of Qu'appelle Valley And it’s three lakes with vertical lines representing the sky, water, sun and earth. As well Metis flower beadwork canvas cutouts across the scene
City of Regina Downtown - March 2019 - Traffic Box Art 2018 I created beadwork graphics and a Turtle to adorn this box located in front of Regina Central Library and Dunlop Art Gallery. Titled “ Turtle Islands Water”, to bring awareness to clean water across Turtle Island (North America) and to promote positive cultural and community relations and prevent graffiti in Regina, Sk. downtown area. I participated in a first time art walk in our city's back alley ways to discuss my art along with several other artists. Alley Door Art 2018 - A second location for “The Circle of Rejuvenation” installed for the Alley Art project to promote positive cultural relations. May 2016 Traffic Box Art installation, The title is “The Circle of Rejuvenation” It’s located in front of the Saskatchewan Mental Health building and brings joy and peace to the space. It’s adorned with bright yellow floral beadwork and buffaloes with the sun shining down. To promote positive cultural and community relations and prevent graffiti in Regina, Sk. downtown area. https://reginadowntown.ca/trafficboxart/
1990-2018 Regina Public School Board, Regina, Sk.28 YEARS — Elementary Teacher Retired - Throughout my career I had opportunities to coordinate Indigenous focused events and positive cultural awareness such as inviting Indigenous expert presenters and inviting Elder’s visits for the children. (Bannock, Storytellers, a Tipi raising and crafts) Integrating art within the children’s learning was of great importance to develop creative young adults throughout my career. My creative gifts gave me many opportunities to help prepare backdrops and art for special events throughout the year. Ensuring that the children always took part.
Committees/Workshops - RPSTA 2000 Conference Sask. Teacher’s Yearly Convention to help organize the Indigenous component - communications committee, Integrating Indigenous Literature and Art Workshops 1997-1999 for AWASIS, RPSB Convention and Sask. Reading Council with my co-presenter Christina Johns.
Other Experience - Métis Spirit Art & Design is my personal artist website influenced by my rich Metis culture to display and sell my art, decor and fashion designs. The art and graphics on my website are designed by me. Most importantly in addition to being an ecommerce/artist website I created it to promote positive relations between our communities and promote our rich culture. Skills - Several years of self taught (Online) Art, photoshop, photography tutorials. As well as studying informational books on techniques and style, Photography knowledge & use of a full frame Sony A7III, Web Designer and Manager of a home-based business, Knowledge and confident use of Photoshop 2019 and Lightroom 2019, Designing graphics using an Intuos Graphic tablet and photoshop, Creating small video presentations
Website Designing & Social Media - sole designer of Metis Spirit Art & Design shopify, Metis Spirit Art & Design Facebook,Metis Spirit Art & Design Instagram with a Social Media Course by (Blue Moose Media)
EDUCATION - University of Regina, S.U.N.T.EP, Regina, Sk.- Bachelors Of Education
Graduated 1990. SUNTEP is a fully accredited Bachelor of Education Program with a cross-cultural focus in Metis History and Culture. I majored in cross-cultural studies. I was a teacher for 28 years and enjoyed teaching students about the Metis culture and history.
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Métis Spirit Art and Design