Traditional life in the northwest boreal forest is not an easy one. Much time has to be invested in crafting the means of survival. At the same time, the intimate knowledge of the boreal forest and the many ways in which it can supply the materials necessary for survival has cultivated a deep spiritual connection between the people and the land. For this reason, artwork that emerges from the people of the boreal forest tends to have a functional as well as artistic merit to it. This is not true in all cases; some pieces of work are art for art’s sake, but this is perhaps only a very recent phenomenon. Many traditional art pieces reflect not only skilled design work, but also a practicality that speaks to a lifestyle that depended on the usefulness of the surrounding environment to remain sustainable.
The results are as varied as the hands who craft them. Some artworks, like birchbark bitings and those designs employing bead or quill-work, are delicate and exquisite, while others, like birchbark baskets, are less expressive and more functional in form. No matter what form the artwork may take, such pieces are an expression of old traditions, some of which are passing from the world along with the people who upheld them.
Native artwork in present day northern culture has departed somewhat from its traditional roots. Whereas traditional art pieces possessed a strong functional component that spoke of the lifestyle traditions they emerged from, modern day art pieces are created, in part, because they are a valuable commodity, especially to tourists. Income earned from the sale of art pieces can help to supplement the life of a traditional hunter or trapper. At the same time, art pieces are one means of cultural transmission from one generation to the next. Art is valued because it can speak in an expressive way about traditional culture, and make that culture palatable to younger generations.