My name is Ricko DeWilde, I am an Athabascan Indian. I was raised up a traditional Native lifestyle 100 miles up the river outside the small village of Huslia, Alaska. I am the third youngest of 14 children born to my late parents, Lloyd and Amelia DeWilde. My parents home schooled and raised us year around in this homestead. Hunting, trapping, farming, and gathering were our means of getting by. Every year when the spring ice thawed and went out in May, my family and I would take the spruce wood boat that we built and go 100 miles downriver to Huslia for our supplies and mail. We would stay for about a month, load up our supplies and then go back to the wilderness. My lifestyle and culture was far different than what I live by today. I lived in a place that had no television, running water, electricity, etc. Aside from our school books, we were always being taught different life skill to get through the different seasons of the year. Cultural skills were the basics to survival. My mother would teach and create many of these skills including making fish nets with twine, nets under the ice in the winter, snaring and hunting rabbits, ptarmigan, grouse, sewing our canvas bag mattresses to be filled with moose hair, fur parkas, mittens, hats, etc. My father was also busy with our seasonal survival activities. Building boats, canoes, fish traps, snowshoes, from birch and spruce. Trapping beaver under the ice, marten, wolves, wolverine, lynx, mink, etc, were the fur bearing animals essential to providing material for clothing and to sell for money to buy supplies for the camp. My mother and father also taught us what and when to hunt certain animals for meat, depending on the season. Bears in the den, fish, moose, caribou, beaver, etc. We were taught the proper steps to ensuring the meat was taken care of and stored without the use of freezers or canning. Staying safe, warm and alive while out hunting and trapping is essential to survival in the woods. One must know where and when to cross frozen lakes and rivers, how to check the ice and to avoid places like beaver houses on frozen lakes. One must also know where and how to create a shelter and fire if needed, and what tools and food to carry on long treks. Walking in snowshoes and traveling by canoe also has a set of rules to follow. Proper care of skin clothing is essential to staying dry and warm too.
In the recent years, my mother, father, older sister, and grandmother had passed away. Traditionally my family was to have a memorial potlatch about two years after the death to honor our past family members. Potlatches are also a final step in the mourning process of Athabascan Indians. It is a big feast and all the deceased personal belongings are taken out of storage and given out to family and friends. It is a final step of letting go of the deceased and to let their spirit go to the land of our forefathers and ancestors. In the few years before a potlatch the family will also sew mittens, fur hats, kakinas (skin boots), etc, to be handed out at the potlatch. Also common for hand out gifts today is memorial shirts, cups, pins, key chains, etc.
For the potlatch I wanted to design some sweaters to represent who they were and what they meant to me. I sat down with this friend of the family who was an artist and discussed ideas on designs that would represent a strong sense of natural Native American strength and beauty. I wanted feathers to represent the beauty of our culture. For strength I wanted to display the strongest, most respected animals of our land, and also the tools and weapons of our ancestors. I try to display the left hand of the bear as much as possible with the art because it’s a left hand animal. As a young adult I was taught this fact because if one is to ever wound and pursue a grizzly while hunting, they must watch for possible ambush from the left side. Grizzlies will tend to circle left and wait on its trail or come from behind if it decides to fight back. I strongly advise my artist to display a tough personality when drawing the animals or Native Americans. I believe too much art and themes of the Native Americans today display an old, wrinkled, broken warrior, or spiritual, but, timid Native who is vulnerable to the elements of today. I feel that, like me, many of my people are ready to take on new challenges and fight for a spot in this world today and build something for the future of our children.
In June of 2007 I handed out 25 hooded sweatshirts to my family and friends. Following the potlatch I got numerous compliments and requests to have sweaters done. I continued to make them, but for sale, and they continued to be in demand. The inspiration to name the line Hydz came from the importance that animal hides has had in my life. Hides is also a signature term for the traditional clothing of Native Americans and has played one of the most important roles in the survival of all mankind.
I was created and raised by my parents in a strong Native American culture. I created designs to represent who they were and to thank them for what they had done for me. In the end the designs for my parents has been a gift from them to me and represents who I am and where I came from.
Thank you, Ricko DeWilde