The ancestors speak and inspire
A man of many talents and seemingly endless energy, Gil Sipkema is the founder of Aboriginal Day in Orangeville, co-founder of Dufferin Circle, proprietor of Global Native Crafts, a painter, carver, sculptor, teacher of youth and adults alike, and a lifelong student in the ways of his ancestors.
“I’m always learning,” said Sipkema. “I talk to the chief and elders for guidance and inspiration. It never stops. There’s still so much to know about Indigenous culture that didn’t get written down.”
Sipkema is keen to share his knowledge with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous audiences. He feels it’s important that everyone understands each other’s stories and history.
“Sometimes younger people come in, and they just want to talk. I’m happy to see them. If they’re interested in the art I’m making, I’ll show them.”
Make education entertaining and interactive, that’s the secret
Sipkema often leads groups through the Blanket Exercise, an emotional, participatory and dramatic telling of history from an indigenous perspective.
“This is a good way to learn together,” said Sipkema. “The history comes alive, and remember, here in Headwaters, we are all on traditional indigenous lands. Understanding who we are, how we live together and where we came from is important.”
Hand-made traditions live on
“I do everything by hand, I don’t even have a sewing machine,” laughs Sipkema. “I make wampum belts, dreamcatchers and false faces. I work with all kinds of materials. When it’s warmer, I carve animal bone, soapstone and wood. I like to do that outside.”
Sipkema makes a point of mentioning that nearly everything he creates is by commission, for an individual, and a specific purpose. The item may help promote healing, or to bring back memories or in some cases, for ceremony. The pieces are imbued with meaning that are passed on to the recipient.
This is home
After living in various parts of Ontario, often in the northern regions, Sipkema came to Headwaters about seven years ago – “came down south” – to be close to his wife’s family.
He’s established deep ties to the community, and through his work with Aboriginal Day in Orangeville and the Dufferin Circle, has given much back to all of us.