What if the Mandalorian’s armor was birchbark instead of beskar? An Algonquin artist brings this to life

What would he be like if the Mandalorian was native?

For Anishinabe (Algonquin) artist Christal Ratt, this meant exchanging star wars character’s signature beskar steel armor for wiigwasthe word for birch bark in the Algonquin language.

“I really like the mandalorian series and I thought I should make it Indigenous – make it a tribute to the defenders of the land and all the people who are on the front lines,” said Ratt, who is a member of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, in the western Quebec.

The helmet includes shades of orange to honor residential school survivors. (Submitted by Christal Ratt)

Since 2019, members of the Algonquins of Barrière Lake have imposed their own moratorium on moose sport hunting in the province’s La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve due to concerns about a decline in the herd’s population.

That’s why Ratt etched the image of a moose on the dirt right in the center of the chest plate.

And while she can’t stop the lightsabers, the wearable artwork also includes a birch bark helmet, complete with spiky woodland flowers and different shades of orange to honor residential school survivors in her community.

The room is called Shemaginishwhich means warrior.

“If we had superheroes, what would they wear? Ratt said when asked what sparked the idea for the piece. “I was just thinking about all that [and] to see how I can represent our people.”

Ratt is a member of the Algonquins of Lac Barrière in western Quebec. (Natacha Thompson)

Passed down through the generations

For Algonquin communities, birch bark has traditionally been used to make canoes, baskets, moose calls and cradles. Ratt has incorporated the material into jewelry, bags, dolls, and even a face mask.

“I really want to continue working with the wiigwas, because it’s something that people have always done,” she said. “I just want to be one of those people who carry on those traditions.”

The work of birch bark is a know-how that is transmitted from generation to generation in his family. Ratt’s grandparents made canoes and she harvests birch bark with her parents.

“It’s always been very important to our people,” said his mother, Beatrice Ratt. “I’m very proud of her because she can do all these things. When we saw what she was doing for the first time, I was very surprised.”

Ratt and his mother, Beatrice Ratt. (Submitted by Christal Ratt)

Recognition for his work

Earlier this month, Ratt brought the costume to the Heard Guild Museum’s 2022 Indian Market and Fair in Phoenix, Arizona.

She landed a second place ribbon in the market’s juried competition in the Miscellaneous Art Forms category for personal clothing and accessories without a predominance of beading or quilled.

“I’m really new to the world of the art market and juried competition; I started in 2018,” Ratt said. “I’ve been really grateful that so far in every market I’ve been to, I’ve won a ribbon [and] this one is just extra special because it was a whole wiigwas room.”