Series of indigenous arts workshops debuts

Duane Hicks

Nothing brings people together like learning and creating side by side.
Local partners held their first of what will be an ongoing series called “Indigenous Arts Workshops Supported by the Rainy River District Community” on Saturday with ribbon skirt-making at the Seven Generations Education Institute here.
Instructor Dorothy Friday taught eight participants how to make the colourful skirts from start to finish during the all-day workshop.
“Ribbon skirts are kind of a contemporary thing,” Friday explained. “A lot of women wear ribbon skirts.
“The ribbons represent their clans, their Ojibwe names–it’s up to them,” she added.
“It’s about creating something that describes who you are.”
Friday, who is a Seine River FN band member but lives in Fort Frances, said she was taught how to make ribbon skirts some 40 years ago by her mother, the late Jessie Friday.
She enjoys passing on what she’s learned in the years since.
“That’s what the focus is–the teachings and appreciating who you are as an individual,” Friday noted.
And after Saturday’s workshop, 10 more district individuals now have their own personalized ribbon skirts.
“There’s a lot of people who attend ceremonies–non-native people, included–and they’re asked to wear ribbon skirts,” Friday said.
“It’s just out of respect; they don’t have to but it’s good if they do.”
The workshop came together through the collaboration of several community groups and sponsors, including the Fort Frances Museum & Cultural Centre, Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre, Fort Frances Public Library, Seven Generations Education Institute, Sunset Country Métis, Project Sunset, Gizhewaadiziwin Health Access Centre, TD Canada Trust, and the Copper River Inn & Conference Centre.
The aim of the series is to bring communities together, and get people travelling around to different places in the district to support local indigenous arts and to learn about traditional indigenous arts and culture, said Laura Gosse, community engagement co-ordinator for the Fort Frances Museum & Cultural Centre.
“We are in a small, isolated area here in Northwestern Ontario but I feel like there needs to be more communication back and forth between communities,” she noted.
“And so a great way to start a reconciliation process, and even just starting conversation, is through the arts and developing programming that gets people excited.
“I want everyone to come together and learn different things about indigenous art,” Gosse added, noting future workshops could highlight anything classified as a traditional art form like painting, beading, paddle-making, moccasin-making, learning how to drum and sing, or making your own hand drum.
As well, these art forms are taught in-person by community members–much better than learning via a YouTube tutorial, Gosse reasoned.
“We are finding local artists to instruct the classes, and hope to have them run every two months,” she remarked.
“These workshops will change locations based upon which communities would like to participate in this travelling workshop series.”
Arts programming also is a great way to network.
“You’re sitting beside a person, saying, ‘Can you help me out with this?’ You learn together, you start a dialogue,” Gosse said.
“After the workshop, it makes it more easier to reach out to people because you build that network.
“And I think it would be really great to start more of a network here in Northwestern Ontario,” she added, noting communities shouldn’t be staying inside “boxes.”
Besides, the workshops will be informative and fun.
“People get to learn about other cultures, they get to learn about their own cultures–maybe learn something they didn’t know,” noted Gosse.
“But everyone brings their own personalities, perspectives, and beliefs into it–it’s a really great way to work together and explore different mediums, as well.”
Looking ahead, the next workshop will be held in November, with the activity possibly being soapstone carving.
Then in January, there will be a capot-making workshop, where participants will learn how to make a jacket out a Hudson Bay blanket (more details on both will be announced in the near future).
“We do want to invite any other groups who would like to participate in this,” said Gosse, noting the Seven Generations Education Institute, Copper River Inn, and TD Canada Trust all sponsored this past Saturday’s workshop.
“We’re always looking for funding; for people who want to donate to this, as well.”
Community support will help subsidize the workshops to make them affordable.
Want to get involved in the series? Contact Gosse at 274-7891, Caroline Goulding at 274-9879 ext. 1610, or Tanya Howarth at 274-2796.