OLCN artist and puppeteer takes his show and art on the road
- EFN Staff | May 04, 2018
From sculpting, carving, creating pow-wow regalia to being the man behind the infamous puppet Emery Burningrass, this Indigenous artist is paving a road to explore art in many forms.
Donnie Mac from Onion Lake Cree Nation is known for his creations over the years. When he was a kid, he wanted to dance pow-wow but didn’t have the resources. It was then the idea of creating his own pow-wow outfit was born. It wasn’t until he was in his mid-twenties when he turned his idea into a reality. People started seeing his creations on the pow-wow trail and that’s when the regalia requests started pouring in.
“I really enjoyed art, and I made my own powwow outfit [which] was my first step,” said the traditional pow-wow dancer. “People started ordering more stuff from me so I just became an artist.”
His artwork and regalia products have inspired him to open his own store two years ago called the 1876 Trading Post where he sells arts and crafts supplies and various gift shop items. His artwork started with rocks to carving on antlers, creating a variety of paintings and is now working on pow-wow dancer figurines.
Six years ago, Mac moved away Onion Lake to Prince George, BC. It was a time where he got his first recognition as an artist when he attended the Walrus Talks Art Conference where they picked the top 12 artists in Canada.
“I did reach a few highs in my career already…then I moved back home and I carried that momentum with me because I knew it was needed,” he said. “[In Onion Lake,] we didn’t have a crafts store for three hours so I took a jump at it and started my store like that.”
From the Treaty 6 territory, the idea of his store name came from the year the treaty was signed in 1876 and coincidentally, it’s also the last four digits of his treaty number. With his business booming, he was able to hire a full-time employee to look after the shop while he was out on the road focusing on his other business as a puppeteer.
“A buddy of mine told me to buy [the puppet] at a thrift store in Saskatoon a couple years ago so I bought him,” he said. “I start humouring the ugliness that our people adopted such as lateral violence so I just used Emery Burningrass to try raise awareness [by] showing people how ugly it really looks but through a puppet.”
Mac created a Facebook account of Emery Burningrass but had instantly exceeded the friends limit which is 5,000. He created a page of his puppet which has over 7,000 fans. The humour of Emery Burningrass has been a big hit through videos being circulated on social media. Mac hit the road with his puppet performing gigs and has also brought in other little puppets as well.
“They say laughter is the best medicine and I truly believe that,” he said. “On-reserve things don’t happen so fast unless you make it happen for yourself. I was trying to find the gifts that I had and humour was one of them. [Emery Burningrass] is pretty much just me but just in a different form.”
Mac first started the gigs over four months now and finds himself busier than ever. He’s travelled across western Canada performing in various communities. In his kid-friendly shows, he promotes language and art and with older kids, Mac focuses on speaking on issues such as bullying and suicide to reach a wider audience.
“I do a puppet show and always show a positive message of whatever they want,” he said. “Promoting culture, language, and brighter futures is pretty much what I do. That's my promotion.”