By Rick Garrick
THUNDER BAY—Fort William’s Helen Pelletier recently shared her knowledge about making moccasins with about 50 youth at a Neechee Studio mini-moccasin workshop at Definitely Superior Art Gallery in Thunder Bay.
“We’re making baby moccasins with the help of Audrey DeRoy,” Pelletier says. “We are using moose hide and sinew. I figure if you want to learn how to work with leather, you start small and then go bigger. This is a perfect way of teaching — you see a result right away, so it is very encouraging.”
Pelletier taught the youth about the stitches used to sew a moccasin and how to cut the moose hide.
“A lot of times we use the running stitch,” Pelletier says, noting the stay stitch is also used to keep the pattern and moose hide in place during the cutting process. “Audrey and I were just talking about the importance of holding the leather in place because leather moves.”
Pelletier enjoyed working with the youth during the workshop, which was held on the evening of Jan. 13.
“I love it because I get to pass on the knowledge that I’ve been taught,” Pelletier says. “That is the most important thing about making moccasins, is that we’re passing on knowledge and sharing it. That means that it will continue on and that these kids will be teaching their children and future generations.”
Pelletier first learned how to make moccasins from her mother before learning more while working at Fort William Historical Park.
“From there, Anne Magiskan taught me and then I went to [Lakehead] University, where Ruby Slipperjack Farrell taught me the skills,” Pelletier says. “She was very accurate on teaching, so she would make us, if we didn’t do things right, take it apart and do it right until it was.”
DeRoy was impressed with the number of youth at the workshop.
“When I came into this room and saw all the youth, I was so impressed and I was excited,” DeRoy says. “I’m just honoured to be here to share a little bit of the teachings that I have.”
DeRoy says her parents began teaching her how to make moccasins when she was “a little girl.”
“I was telling [the youth] I only had my parents for nine years of my life,” DeRoy says. “And they taught me everything that I needed to know in the first seven years. That is who shaped who I am today.”
DeRoy says it is important to “stay in a good place” while sewing.
“Always have good thoughts because all of that energy is going into what you are making,” DeRoy says. “So if you feel like you are starting to feel frustrated or whatever, you should take some time and walk around and stretch a bit and then go back to your project.”
Neechee Studio began offering monthly workshops from November to March for Indigenous and other youth aged 13 to 30 about four years ago. About 20 to 40 youth usually attend most of the workshops.
“We consult with our youth about what they want to do and we did a poll on our Facebook group,” says Lucille Atlookan, Neechee Studio’s lead youth outreach coordinator. “This one was the most picked.”
Atlookan says the youth can enlarge the mini-moccasin pattern to create their own moccasins.
“They can enlarge the pattern and make their own,” Atlookan says. “It’s kind of easy, but hard on the fingers though.”