Advertisement

Indigenous artist uses balsam branch in design of new medal for Yukoners

Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai with artist Violet Gatensby on Tuesday, showing the new medal designed by Gatensby. The medal will be awarded to 250 Yukoners, and the design draws on teachings Gatensby received in her childhood. (Virginie Ann/CBC News - image credit)
Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai with artist Violet Gatensby on Tuesday, showing the new medal designed by Gatensby. The medal will be awarded to 250 Yukoners, and the design draws on teachings Gatensby received in her childhood. (Virginie Ann/CBC News - image credit)

Offering a balsam branch in the Yukon is like offering an olive branch, says a young artist whose design was chosen for a new medal that will be awarded to select Yukoners.

As part of the territory's 125th anniversary, the government has created a special new award that will be granted to exceptional residents for their leadership and their contributions toward reconciliation.

Violet Gatensby, whose formline design was selected for the medal, spent several months emailing back and forth on the design with the coordinators. She used memories from her youth to inform the artwork.

"One of the things that came up was balsam branches," she said, in a news conference on Tuesday where she showed the new medal, alongside Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai.

"Balsam branches are used for medicine when you're sick, they're used in your sweat lodge and they're very powerful," said Gatensby, who's from the Carcross/Tagish First Nation.

The medal that will be awarded to 250 Yukoners for their leadership and reconciliaton work includes a formline design by Tagish First Nation artist Violet Gatensby. Gatensby depicted a balsam branch beside a figure - the figure represents how youth are picking up the practices of their elders.
The medal that will be awarded to 250 Yukoners for their leadership and reconciliaton work includes a formline design by Tagish First Nation artist Violet Gatensby. Gatensby depicted a balsam branch beside a figure - the figure represents how youth are picking up the practices of their elders.

Gatensby depicted a balsam branch beside a figure that represents how youth are picking up the practices of their elders. (Virginie Ann/CBC News)

'We can heal together'

The engraving on the medal includes a green bushy balsam branch.

"I wanted to kind of use the balsam branch to symbolize that that's kind of our olive branch when it comes to reconciliation," she said.

Her parents, grandparents and community members taught her about the healing properties of balsam, as a way of teaching her about life in the Yukon, she explained.

"We hold it very dearly to us and to offer it out is to tell you, 'We can heal, we can heal together.'"

A figure beside the branch represents young people in their journey to carry traditions forward, and live with happiness and health, Gatensby said.

Gatensby also said the medal features the colour red, which follows a lesson from her teacher who was a renowned carver.

"When I was in school, my teacher, Dempsey Bob, also told me that when you're doing anything, put red in there because it's going to give it life.

According to the premier's office, Gatensby's artwork was selected because it aligns with the award's themes of leadership and reconciliation.

Nominations open 

Nomination forms for the new award are available online, and officials say winners will be announced later this year.

Judging panels will be looking for people who "embody values of leadership and reconciliation" and those from "all walks of life and a variety of sectors" are eligible, according to the premier's office. This includes those making contributions in the public sector, or through volunteering, entrepreneurship, arts and environmental stewardship.

Half of the 250 medals will be awarded by Yukon First Nations leaders, and the other half will be awarded by a joint panel that includes input from elected officials, the commissioner, and members of the public.