Gitxsan artist blends Indigenous culture and heritage with traditional playing card designs

For years, Gitxsan artist Michelle Stoney has created art inspired by her culture and heritage, including jewelry, drums, graphic design, paintings and murals. 

Now, she’s released a deck of cards featuring Gitxsan imagery. 

In 2021, she was working on another project — a colouring page for each day in December. Stoney said she was finding inspiration in everyday items. 

When a poker commercial came on TV, she was moved to create an ace card. 

“I thought that was too simple,” she told Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk. 

But the joker card stuck out to her. 

“I always try to relate it to my culture, Northwest Coast Gitxsan culture. Joker is like a trickster, and our trickster is the Raven.”

From there, she got to work and ended up designing an entire deck.

A box that says Gitxsan playing cards sits on a snowy branch
Gitxsan Playing Cards, developed by Gitxsan artist Michelle Stoney. (Ian Hennes)

She said she did some research and based all the face cards around Northwest Coast traditional practices, she created a warrior card with a spear and a berry picker. 

Each suit represents a different clan house.

Many of the face cards, she says, are based on her ancestors, in particular, her grandparents. 

“The Queen one is the medicine woman, which actually looks more like my mom,” Stoney said. 

The queen of spades, which an Indigenous flair
The face cards are based on Stoney’s ancestors, in particular, her grandmother and grandfather. (Ian Hennes)

“My grandpa was in a film … and they took some images of him in warrior regalia, so I used those images.”

She said the feedback from her community has been positive, and online reviews have all been five stars. 

“I know a lot of First Nations people who use cards a lot,” Stoney said, adding that now, each card they pick up will connect them to the Gitxsan culture.

A queen, king and jack playing cards with Indigenous designs instead of traditional cards
Each suit in Michelle Stoney’s Gitxsan deck of cards represents a different clan. The hearts represent Lax Gibuu — the Wolf Clan. (Ian Hennes)

Recently, she played her first game of cards with her deck at a family get-together. She said her late grandfather played solitaire every morning. 

“Every time I hold the cards, I think of him,” she said. 

“He always loved bragging about his granddaughters and grandchildren, so he’s probably bragging to all his buddies up there.”

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