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Tweeting about National Indigenous Peoples Day? This Haida artist designed the emoji

Emojis aren’t Jaalen Edenshaw’s usual medium, but when artist Haida received an email request from Twitter Canada five or six months ago, he couldn’t refuse.

The social media giant asked him to design the official emoji for the National Indigenous Peoples Day and National Indigenous History Month hashtags.

It was a new challenge for Edenshaw, who doesn’t use Twitter and is best known for his monumental red cedar sculptures, including the totems Jasper, Cormorant and Gwaii Haanas Legacy.

“It’s kind of a departure from what I normally do,” he said. “I had to learn the computer design side and work with Geoff Horner, who helped me digitize the sketches.”

Jaalen Edenshaw is a multidisciplinary artist from the Haida Nation in British Columbia, whose works have been exhibited around the world.

Credit: Helen Haig-Brown and Grace Jones

The Naaxiin artwork produced is the final product of many sketches over several months. He said he chose a design that would be culturally familiar to many First Nations along the BC coast, rather than something specific to the Haida nation alone.

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“I wanted to come up with something that was still some sort of West Coast design, but represented more of the trade and shared similarities between our cultures,” he explained.

Naaxiin’s face comes from a shared weaving design, Edenshaw added, made from many materials that the Haida nation would trade with other nations.

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It is not the first emoji that the multidisciplinary artist has drawn. In 2020, Edenshaw embarked on a project with Horner to create a Haida emoji set, now available as an iPhone sticker set.

He is still learning the Haida language himself, but he said the nation’s youth learn it faster and he wanted them to have a way to express themselves.

“I could see young people using (emojis) more and more … it’s a real part of written communication now,” she explained.

“Some (emojis) are fun, they use our aesthetic to have the same images of what emojis are (mainstream), but others were kind of jargon, phrasing and Haida stories, giving only young people the opportunity to use their expressions through emojis “.

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When social media users see the Naaxiin chart on June 21, Edenshaw said he wanted to remind them that indigenous peoples are not a monolith, but a wonderfully diverse group of distinct nations and cultures that are still connected.

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Edenshaw also creates prints, bentwood boxes, masks, copper shields and hollowed out canoes. Twitter’s emoji design fits into her functional art portfolio, she explained.

“I create things that will be used as much as possible. Some things will end up in galleries or museums, but I like to see the pieces in the dances as masks or used as signs or totems that are in the village, “she said.

“In a way it gives it a more life of its own, as opposed to something that’s a bit static and only there for review. The emoji type works the same way because it is something that lives and is used on a daily basis. “

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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