A long-crafted love: Harvey Blackned creates tamaracks in memory of his late wife

Share Button

Tamarack birds are a beautiful symbol. Thanks to skilled craftsmanship, a bundle of sticks can be turned into something that is both useful and a work of art. In some cases, it is also a symbol of perseverance.

In Harvey Blackned’s case, his passion for tamarack making began when his father taught him the craft at the age of 15. Over the years, his passion grew and he eventually became a teacher in the art of making tamarack geese. When tragedy struck last November, leaving Blackned devastated by the loss of his wife Shelly-Ann Stephen, the mother of his seven children, the birds took a back seat.

Although Christmas wasn’t the same, the Blackned family was given a fresh start when their community of Waskaganish pulled together and renovated their home. Volunteers banded together to help brighten up an otherwise somber Christmas. One of the changes made to the house was the addition of a workshop so that Blackned would have a place to continue his craft.

As a longtime member of the Cree Native Arts and Crafts Association (CNACA), Blackned frequently traveled with his wife to events all over Canada to showcase their creations. For a time after her passing, Blackned considered giving up his passion for the craft. But there was one memory that helped him decide what to do.

“Before she was my wife, she was my girlfriend,” Blackned said. “She did not know I was making tamaracks. After we had our first child, she noticed me making tamaracks. She loved them and told me not to stop.”

It was this memory that encouraged Blackned to teach a course on behalf of CNACA at the Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute in Oujé-Bougoumou. Crees from throughout Eeyou Istchee were invited to participate. Ten students spent two weeks (March 7-18) with Blackned learning the step-by-step process of creating and perfecting a tamarack bird.

“On our first day we didn’t do anything, we just talked,” Blackned said. “It was hard for me, but I’m happy I spent those two weeks in Oujé.”

23-12 Harvey Blackned tamarack

Being somewhat rusty, Blackned described how he started to improve the more he made. It allowed him to get back into his groove while his students were able to see that with practice their tamaracks will begin to look better.

The talent and the progression of his students amazed Blackned. To celebrate, a dinner was held to congratulate them on their last day for taking the course seriously and their perseverance in acquiring a new skill.

“They asked me to pick one top student and one most improved student,” Blackned said. “All of them were best students and all of them improved the most, so it was tough to pick just two.”

Moving forward, Blackned says his passion for tamarack will continue. Despite his loss, the memory of his late wife helped push him to never turn his back on his passion.

23-12 Goose Decoy 1

Harvey Blackned’s tamarack class

Share Button

Comments are closed.