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

Artist Michelle Stoney has created a new deck of cards with a Gitxsan flair. (Ian Hennes - image credit)
Artist Michelle Stoney has created a new deck of cards with a Gitxsan flair. (Ian Hennes - image credit)

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.

Ian Hennes
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.

Ian Hennes
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.

Ian Hennes
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."