Dene Woman Makes Earrings Like You’ve Never Seen

ByThomas J. Pawlak

May 8, 2022

It’s a sure sign of spring in the North.

And these amazing earrings look just like the real thing.

Hairy catkins growing on the branches of a willow tree.

But look a little closer and you’ll see that it’s pure imagination…and art.

“I use real pearls and caribou hair to replicate the plant,” said Vashti Etzel of Faro, Yukon.

In his dialect, willows are known as Gule det’ele

These earrings may look like kittens on a willow, but they’re made with tanned moose hide, beads and caribou fur. (Submitted by Vashti Etzel)

Vashti is Shuhta Dene and Kaska Dene and has been inspired by her natural surroundings since she was a toddler.

“My mother studied botany and I was inspired by plants and traditional medicines at a very young age,” she said.

Etzel said willows are “luxurious”.

Especially in the spring when the fluffy little kittens wake up after a long winter.

“It’s so enlightening to have a Gule det’ele vase in your home,” she said.

And perhaps even more illuminating when worn as jewelry.

“These are statement earrings,” she said.

They certainly are.

Vashti Etzel designed these earrings by reproducing a flowering willow tree with fluffy catkins. (Submitted by Vashti Etzel)

“Statement pieces are usually wearable works of art that are manifestations of our cultural and traditional ways of life. It goes back to our ancestral teachings.”

Etzel replicates velvety spikes with caribou tufts.

The resemblance is remarkable.

“We have so many traditional natural materials that can mimic the look of nature itself.”

Etzel posted her earrings to CBC North’s Arctic Sewing Room Facebook group.

People were blown away.

“Amazing, beautiful…almost real,” one band member said.

“Oh Wow! This is so amazing! Such beautiful stitching and beading!” says another.

Etzel said these earrings resonate with people because they have powerful memories of harvesting these plants.

“It’s a connection to our ancestors. It’s how we empower ourselves and carry on the legacy of our people,” Etzel said.