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Creating while being Native: Subsistence Activities


Grayling. Holding the fish the most awkward way possible.

Living a partially subsistence based life (meaning we hunt and fish for a good portion of our protein and also gather plants and veggies from the land) means that we follow a very loose but unforgiving calendar. How do you balance that time table with the more stringent and equally time consuming calendar of a creator that makes their money by making art sometimes by demand?


For me I follow a few general guidelines that I have come up with over almost two decades.


-Deadlines - If I could make a living creating art and writing without deadlines, believe it or not I would not choose to do so. I have learned to love marking a date on the calendar. This gives me goals to work towards every day/week/month. Open ended projects almost always go awry in some way or another, especially if my work is coordinated with with other artists and writers and scientists and whatnot. So First and foremost; learn to love the deadline. BUT do a couple of things. Let your project manager know of any upcoming subsistence activities and what that will look like. Will it mean an extra day? an extra week? Give it some perimeters. And stick to those perimeters. Also you should build in your time for subsistence activities if you know what is coming up. For instance I KNOW that when fall time caribou hunting rolls around I need to add a week or two to project deadlines. Or I just don;t sign up for anything during that time at all if I want to spend more time camping. Bailing out while in the middle of a project is not cool, mostly because if you are working with others you will cause internal havoc (not really but some people may be upset if they are not familiar with cultural activities). Subsistence activities are pretty predictable if you have been doing it for a while. But if it does come down to having to choose between hunting and completing a project on time that you have committed to....choose the project. You can always hit the next subsistence activity extra hard so that you can trade for what you missed out on, but it's almost impossible to recover from a reputation of being unreliable or giving the impression you are not committed to future projects. If you can't miss certain subsistence activities for sure and you are offered a project with a deadline that you won't be able to meet, don't accept the job. It will help your blood pressure.


-Plan your Subsistence activities - This really does help a LOT. For instance in our household we need a certain ...large...amount of caribou meat depending on season. Every year we also need at least 10 gallons of dried seal meat and oil (through trade), 50 grayling, 8 gallons berries, 1 gallon greens, and various other things that we gather for trade etc. etc. This helps us determine what we will be doing and when. It's what our ancestors did so it's built into us! And it's pretty fun and helps relieve some of the stress throughout the year.


-Don't feel like you have to give up your subsistence activities to be successful - Living off the land has many benefits, emotional, cultural, and physical for instance. It's a time to bond and engage in community and passing on skills to younger people. Your experiences are also valuable to the world and can provide amazing artwork and writing so that your viewpoint can be added to the melting pot. It is a different type of life, which means your works can be valuable in their uniqueness. I usually aim for one big long term project a year, and a couple smaller ones that I pick if I might enjoy them or if they are aligned with a personal goal of mine. With all the chinks in between filled with personal projects. Don't overdo the projects and don't under-do (haha) the subsistence activities. Know your limits. Aim for balance. And be forgiving, it's a learning process!




What else can you add to this list? What have you learned being a Creator and a subsistence harvester?

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