One of the Waskaganish artist’s designs has been selected to appear on $5 silver coins produced by the Royal Canadian Mint (RCM). The coin is the last in a series of four that celebrates different First Nations hunting traditions. Whiskeychan chose to represent the Cree Nations with the goose.
“When I was asked to submit a design for the coin, they wanted a Cree version of hunting,” said Whiskeychan. “I decided I’d try to pass on the traditional teachings of hunting geese with bow and arrows.”
Whiskeychan set out into the bush with his daughter and took photos of what he wanted the image to look like to help perfect the composition of his design. The first submission was rejected the RCM, but Whiskeychan took the decision in stride. Several months later, he was contacted again. The mint wanted a new concept, this one with a single hunter instead of the two people featured in his original design.
At the behest of his family, Whiskeychan headed for the Aanischaaukamikw Cultural Institute in Oujé-Bougoumou to find some inspiration.
“Looking at the traditional clothes and hunting tools in Oujé, my idea for the design came to me, but I wanted to make sure that I represented the tradition of the goose hunt correctly,” said Whiskeychan.
Over the next few weeks, the artist applied himself to the task of creating the coin’s image: a hunter in traditional clothing aiming his bow up at flying geese from behind a tamarack blind. By corresponding with anthropologists and officials at the institute in Oujé to find out what the scene would have looked like generations ago, Whiskeychan’s vision started to take shape.
“I took another photo of myself for composition, this time just me with my bow and arrow aiming at the sky. On the bottom left of the design is a caribou bag for the hunter to put his catch in.”
Whiskeychan made no mistake with his second effort and the RCM jumped at the chance to have 10,000 of the collector’s coins minted.
Accolades arrived soon after.
“These type of milestones mark historical moments for us as a Nation,” Diane Reid told Whiskeychan in a letter on behalf of Aanischaaukamikw. “It is individuals like you who share with us in the collective pride of our accomplishments.”
With the coin’s mintage, Whiskeychan joins a handful of First Nations and Inuit artist to have their art commissioned by the RCM. According to Whiskeychan, the collaboration would not have been impossible without Nadine St. Louis and Cecilia Bond of Sacred Fire Productions. Sacred Fire has successfully promoted several Aboriginal artists over the past several years. In 2013, the Nation reported on Ulaayu Pilurtuut, an Innu artist who also collaborated with the group and had one of her paintings featured on a $5 coin.
Whiskeychan has earned great notoriety as a traditional artist in Quebec over the years. Yet, while his coin will only increase his artistic footprint, he isn’t letting it go to his head.
“People have been telling me that it’s a big deal, but I’m just taking it day by day,” laughed Whiskeychan. “You can’t let things go to your head because art comes from the heart.”
Ultimately, the artist credits this piece to what he learned from Elders, and particularly his father, the late Harry Whiskeychan. Harry specialized in making tamarack decoys for goose season.
“My father taught me about the livelihood of our people and how important it is to maintain our connection to the land,” said Tim. “As an artist I try to bring that out in my work to preserve and explain how important that way of life still is today.”
Whiskeychan’s coin can be ordered at any post office, and is available for purchase online at www.mint.ca/store