Nathalie Bertin

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Plagues and pandemics have affected us before.
We have survived. We remain diligent in our resilience.


Masks by Nathalie Bertin. Visit the Facebook page to learn the stories.

Shown above:
Faith, 2021 (Collection of the Royal Ontario Museum)
Blueberries, 2020 (On exhibition. Collection of the Artist.)
Pandemic Vogue, 2020 (On exhibition. Collection of the Artist.)
All That We Need, 2020 (On exhibition. Collection of the Artist.)
Debwewen Pane, 2020 (Collection of Government of Canada.)

Shown on right:
Matrilineal Knowledge, 2020 (Private collection, California, USA.)
Finding the Acorns, 2020 (Collection of the Artist.)
She Who Brings the Light, 2020 (Collection of the Artist.)

In early 2020, most of the world was shutting down due to the spread of Covid-19. In Canada, the shock of what we had been witnessing in China and Italy was hard to fathom. When the virus finally made its way into Canada in March, isolation, closures and disbelief had the population in the grip of rising panic. For some Indigenous people, it was déja-vu. It had not been many generations prior that infectious disease had gravely impacted First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.

Within the first two weeks of Canada’s shut down, Métis artists Nathalie Bertin and Lisa Shepherd noticed a distinct lack of beaded objects being made by traditional artisans. It was curious since this was exactly the time that artists should be making art. It was especially curious that Métis bead workers had also not been producing any beaded items. Known as the Flower Beadwork People, the Métis put their distinct style of beading on wide variety of objects and garments as a general practice. It seemed odd to not see any new beaded objects even the least bit influenced by the pandemic. In speaking with peers, it seemed the pandemic had completely blocked them of their ability to create.

By the end of March, the artists co-created a project entitled “Breathe: A collection of traditionally crafted masks demonstrating resiliency through 21st century pandemic.” They invited people to create hand-crafted masks in a space where creative people can work out their feelings about the pandemic through their process of mask making. At first, the thought was that the group would be for indigenous artists and artisans. Through the realization that all people all over the world were affected by pandemic, the decision was made to open the group to anyone who wanted to create a mask in any traditional medium that is authentic to their culture and artistic practice. Their vision was that these masks would become artifacts that record a significant historical moment in human history.

In a few short weeks a strong, supportive and incredibly creative community guided by the indigenous teachings of reciprocity has evolved. Participating artists have posted heartfelt stories and stunning mask creations. The project has reached beyond Canada’s borders and throughout the US, many parts of Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Anyone can relate to the stories being shared as we are all faced with a common threat in Covid-19. The masks are true records of humanity and human life in 21st century pandemic. They tell their makers’ unique stories of fear, courage, sadness, hope, love and healing that unite us all. Some of the diverse mediums used to tell these stories include beadwork, embroidery, birch bark etching, quill work, quilting, rug hooking, metalwork, and glass fusion.


The project went live April 6 on Facebook as a group page. A Canadian call for submissions was posted with a deadline of June 2020. In July 2020, a volunteer and supportive group of curators and gallery professionals came together to jury submissions for Canadian exhibition. Fourty-five masks were selected to represent the Breathe project. We would like to acknowledge and thank Maegan Black, Director, Canadian Crafts Federation; M. Sam Cronk, Former Senior Curator, Peel Art Gallery and Museum; Corrie Daniels, Laurier IndigenousInitiatives, Wilfred Laurier University; Anne Ewen, Curator, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies; Susannah HeathEaves, Film Maker,; Emma Knight, Assistant Curator, Indigenous Studies, Royal Alberta Museum; Alison Parry, Director of CulturalStudies, Royal Alberta Museum; and Helen Weber, LutherArt on the Wall, Martin Luther University College. Throughout July and August, masks were received at Nathalie Bertin’s home studio, photographed and catalogued. They began the touring exhibition at Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff, Alberta in October 2020.

In August 2020, a second call for submissions was organized for another separate exhibition run starting at Art Gallery of Guelph. Breathe: 2nd Wave will also be featured in a CBC Arts online exhibition and other Canadian galleries. A grand finale that brings both the 1st and second wave groups of masks will exhibit at Textile Museum in the second half of 2022.

Lisa and Nathalie are proud of what has been accomplished from their grassroots efforts. The project attracted media attention for the artist community early on. A Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC Arts) video documentary by Susannah Heathe-Eves was produced about the project that speaks to the power of community and some of the beautiful work that has been submitted. A fantastic program for elementary and secondary students has been developed in partnership with Ontario-based First Nations, Métis and Inuit Curriculum Lead Colinda Clyne. The program is being made available to school boards and to museums who wish to exhibit Breathe.

Working as colleagues rather than representatives, Lisa and Nathalie fielded requests by buyers who wanted to support the artists through purchases of the masks, and commercial galleries who wanted to feature certain artists. Some of the masks were purchased by such US galleries as the Smithsonian (Washington, DC), Burke Museum (Seattle, WA) and Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art (Overland Park, KS). Although some of the masks have been sold to private collections, the overall vision is to honour the community with a travelling exhibition of as many masks as possible in as many venues as possible in Canada and the US. As international recognition of the Breathe project grows, they have engaged Karen Whitecotton (Citizen Potawatomi Nation), owner of Heritage Museum Services, LLC, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, an Indigenous museum and fine art professional with over two decades of museum experience.

To learn more about the project, check out the CBC Arts video, by Susanah Heath-Eaves. For more media articles and video, see the "Press, Articles, Reviews" section in the Curriculum Vitae page.

matri fall winter



Artist statement: "Indiginesse is a culmination by valiant, contemporary Native women artists working to offer healing, education, and to inform all communities. May this exhibition bring greater compassion, understanding, health, and peace as we all seek to offer responsible caring towards all of our many communities."

May 7 – June 28, 2014, Aurora Cultural Centre, Aurora, ON

Participating Artists: Kayeri Akweks, Christi Belcourt, Lee Claremont, Raven Davis, Alyssa Delbaere-Sawchuck, Lee Deranger, Lita Fontaine, LauraLee K Harris, Maria Hupfield, Nadya Kwandibens, Tanya Lukin Linklater, Shelley Niro, Janice Toulouse



Download the official exhibition catalogue (Size: 2.5MB)


Photo selection from the opening reception on May 15, 2014 at the Aurora Cultural Centre

Media releases and
newsletter promotions:

eBlast 1: Opening reception announcement

eBlast 2: Media Release &
event details

eBlast 3: Opening reception
photos, Artists' Statement &
Paul Martin

eBlast 4: Alyssa Delbaere-Sawchuk concert

eBlast 5: Final days

Indiginesse Facebook page.


Excerpt from Nathalie Bertin's speech given at the opening reception, May 15, 2014:

"The first question I’m usually asked about Indiginesse is what inspired me to create this project? My first answer is always that I wanted to know who my peers are. Having found out about my own indigenous heritage later in life, I had a lot of learning and catching up to do. In doing so, I also realized that a lot of Canadians simply don’t know much about the indigenous cultures that surround us outside of old history books.

And so, when thinking about how I was going to develop this project, I decided to use tradition to talk about the present. I chose women artists because many First Nations traditions are matriarchal and the women were responsible for passing on much of the culture to the young ones. I chose contemporary artists who not only create aesthetically pleasing work but could also speak to who they are, what matters to them, today - in the present time.

When the IdleNoMore movement (initiated by a group of indigenous women, by the way) started gaining ground, I realized I was not only on the right track but that, now more than ever, we need to start having discussions between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians, outside of parliament, away from the media sound bites, so that we could create better understanding among us all.

Ultimately this exhibition isn’t about me. It isn’t only about the artists either. It’s about all of us, indigenous and non-indigenous people, coming together to learn from one another, to bridge the gap that currently exists between us, so we can move forward on life’s journey - together."

PM beadworkshop


"Incredibly moving."
Guest book comment by the Right Honourable Paul Martin
(22 May 2014)
Participants showing off their beadwork during the "Discover Traditional Metis Beading" workshop (May 28, 2014)  
Artist talk: Nadya Kwandibens
(June 4, 2014)
Alyssa Delbaere-Sawchuk
Concert performance premiere of "Memere le colibri"
(June 20, 2014)
Question & Answer session during the intimate evening with Metis musician Alyssa Delbaere-Sawchuk. The second half of the concert performance featured the remaining members of the Metis Fiddler Quartet.

News articles and reviews:

This Is My Song: Perspectives from Contemporary Native Women

June 1-30, 2012, The Art Space, Huntsville, ON


My curatorial debut. "Song" is the word used by Native people to describe how social history is share within the cultures. Traditional knowledge is imparted through songs and storytelling, sometimes using the sacred drum. In the past, the Native woman was the one who kept customs alive through song. After European contact, her position changed drastically but today the Native woman is regaining her voice.

The exhibition is a creative forum cinluding 2-dimensional art, video installation, fashion and music - just some of the many ways Native women artists are sharing their "song" and offering us an accurate portrayal of who they are in today's society.

Artists include Christine Caluya, Lee Claremont, Raven Davis, Lee Deranger, Lita Fontaine, LauraLee K Harris, Inuk360, Tanya Lukin Linklater, Suzanne Smoke, and Janice Toulouse.

© Nathalie Bertin, 2009-2022.
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