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G’Zaagin: The Love of Traditional Indigenous Art | Image source: G’Zaagin Art Gallery

Raised in Wasauksing First Nation, Tracey Pawis overcame many challenges in her life to get to where she is today – a community organizer who promotes Indigenous culture and the owner of G’zaagin Art Gallery. As a survivor of sexual abuse, alcoholism connected to the impacts of intergenerational

Tracey Pawis
Tracey Pawis

residential school trauma, Pawis has learned to embrace herself and her culture by apprenticing as an artist with her mother and master quillwork artist, Audrey Pawis. After surviving a serious car accident, the process of learning quill work has contributed to her healing journey. Through reuniting with her culture she has “chosen to live for all First Nations people, victims of abuse, her community, and family.”

G'zaagin Art Gallery
G’zaagin Art Gallery, Unfinished Earrings


Pawis, whose Anishinaabe name is Boshdayosgaykwe, chose to name her art gallery G’zaaggin which translates to “I love you” in Anishinaabemowin – the Ojibwe language. “I called it that because it was my gift to the world,” explained Pawis. From a family perspective, she also wanted to inspire her children to be anything they wanted to be and to carry on the family tradition of quill box making.


G’zaagin Art Gallery creates platforms to promote Indigenous artists and art including mentorship from Elders and Pawis as well as workshops to strengthen Anishinaabe traditions and heritage. The workshops she put on were there to, “give understanding and education to people who have no idea about traditional art,” she added, “there’s a lot of questions asked when people come in and participate. By creating a space that is open, they have the opportunity to ask anything.”

G'zaagin Art Gallery, Quill Box
G’zaagin Art Gallery, Quill Box


Her most popular workshops were the quill box making workshops. Quill box making along with traditional arts have been practiced in her family for over five generations on both sides of her family. Her father is from Shawanaga First Nation and her mom is from Wasauksing First Nation. It takes a lot of skill, consistency, determination and patience to make one. Quill boxes take many hours to put together and about a year to harvest the materials. “As I’m making the quill boxes I also talk about harvesting, storing, and dying. There’s all these different stages that we do as we are making the quill box. I’ve always believed that when we’re making something that takes that much skill we have an opportunity to learn as much as we can.”


Pawis uses the workshops to demonstrate the Anishinaabe values of respecting Mother Earth. “We talk about that all the time, respecting the materials that we get and not going out and stripping the land,” she said. “We do our offerings and be grateful to the creator for all the things that we have. It’s everyday that I pray and be thankful for everything that we do.”


“Traditional arts are just as important to us as our language,” Pawis explained, “It’s so important to hold onto because it is a part of our culture. That’s why I carry on – to be able to share the skills of making traditional art.”

  G’zaagin Art Gallery:




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About The Author

Erica Commanda

Born in Toronto, Erica Commanda (Algonquin/Ojibwe) grew up in the small community of Pikwakanagan. From there she moved across Canada living in Ottawa, Vancouver and now Toronto, working in the bar/hospitality industry, mastering the art of listening to stories from her regulars while slinging and spilling drinks (at them or to them). And now through a series of random decisions and events in life she is on a journey discovering and mastering her own knack for storytelling as Associate Editor for MUSKRAT Magazine.

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