The Storyboot Project was created to help keep the traditional art of mukluk and moccasin-making alive. Last week Manitobah Mukluks visited Hollow Water First-Nation to teach the art of moccasin and mukluk-making.
Marilyn Tanner-Spence and Sarah Brazauskas, from Manitobah HQ, took the trip together. Marilyn (pictured above on the far right) is an amazing crafter, teacher, and a business owner who has had a big part in shaping the Storyboot School into what it is today.
On the evening of the blood moon, Marilyn and Sarah packed up all of the leathers and furs into Marilyn’s big truck. Not knowing what to expect, they headed north. Months before, a man named Ed with Wanipigow School, reached out to Manitobah to bring the Storyboot School to them.
We hosted a morning class with community members and an evening class with the youth. We now know how ambitious an endeavour we accepted. Sarah describes her experience as one of the most humbling, rewarding, and challenging weeks of her life.
The drive wasn’t that long (just 2.5 hours), but it didn’t help that they missed a turn along the way. When they finally noticed, they’d already added over an hour to their trip. It was about 10:30pm when they arrived in Manigotagan, a small community near the reserve where their motel was (supposedly). There was a large sign, but no motel in sight. Naively they wondered, “is that house across the street our motel?” When Marilyn noticed a small sign on the door, Sarah walked up and investigated. She returned to the truck. The sign said, “This old bear loves his honey.” So, they drove up and down a dirt road, losing hope as the night wore on. Marilyn spotted some men sitting outside and asked for directions. Finally, with their help, they were able to find the place and settled down for the night.
They woke up bright and early the next morning. Again, they got lost on their way to the Community Holistic Circle Healing building in Hollow Water. Turns out that Sarah is probably not the greatest navigator. They arrived fifteen minutes late to a group of about 15 people patiently waiting for them.
The sign that they missed when they got lost a second time…
CHCH Session Day #1
The first class was with members of the community. They were grandmothers, mothers, daughters and even one (as it turned out, immensely creative) husband. It was immediately clear that these people were a close-knit group. They all felt like family and were very welcoming. There was a positive energy that could be felt as soon as you walked in the room. They joked and poked fun the way that family does. It seemed like we were always laughing.
Sarah and Marilyn got everyone started on their patterns. They showed them the different coloured leathers, furs, and fabrics to help get the creative juices flowing. Sarah, in particular, loves the contrast between the very first class and the very last. At both, you get to experience everyone’s initial excitement, see the wheels turning and finally, behold a tangible interpretation of their vision. People are always surprised at what they’re capable of. Students can’t believe that they’ve “created an actual thing!” It’s a really great moment to be a part of.
The class chose to sew a double sole on each pair once the patterns were cut out. It’s tough to do this part by hand, and luckily, a really kind-hearted woman named Isabella offered to sew everyone’s projects with her industrial machine at home. She’s an amazing crafter and teacher in her own right. She makes stunning quilts and star blankets and teaches the skill to other women in her community. She invited everyone over for lunch while she worked away on everyone’s projects.
Cynthia and Isabella
After lunch, Marilyn and Sarah rushed over to Wanipigow School where the process started all over again. As it turned out, a lot of the students were away playing sports several days that week. One of their biggest challenges was to help them finish their projects when a few could only attend one or two classes.
After wrapping up the evening class, Marilyn and Sarah were invited to make pillow cases with Isabella’s sewing group. While they were pinning their fabrics they were invited to partake in the community’s radio bingo (starting in less than half an hour!). They knew they couldn’t pass it up and Robyn whisked them away to pick up tickets and some more bingo dabbers from her house. The first day was a non-stop adventure.
Wanipigow School Session
Marilyn and Sarah playing bingo!
Day two; Sarah and Marilyn were wiped. The days were long and very tiring. They worked non-stop, taking a few moments to eat a quick meal before moving on to the next student with a question.
But even when things got tough, Sarah was quickly reminded of the generous and kind spirit of the people they were with. She was talking with a participant named Theresa about how she really wasn’t feeling well. The very next day she brought her cold medication and Sarah was overwhelmed by the thoughtfulness! It’s also worth noting how amazing the women of Hollow Water can cook! Our teachers were spoiled daily with a delicious potluck meal. They were fed delicious moose meatballs, stews and soups and they must have tried at least 5 different types of bannock.
The appreciation that Marilyn and Sarah felt was definitely reciprocated. They heard a lot of comments throughout the course of the two sessions that made them smile. Things like; “This is the best workshop the band has brought here. Can you come back?” and “I’m so proud of myself” and “I want to be buried in these moccasins” and “our people are losing this skill. I’m glad you came to teach this.”
Hearing these things and seeing the pride in everyone’s faces is the reason we do what we do. We’re happy to say that we came to teach but we also learned a lot. We made connections that will be lasting and are grateful for having met such a wonderful and creative group of people. As we continue to visit other First Nations communities, there are a few things that we will do differently like get better directions, but overall the experience was incredible and we’re really excited about what the future holds.