Students use Native Arts to keep traditions alive
Margaret Erasmus smiles as she holds up a pair of stunning hand-beaded boots—it took her 280 hours to hand-sew the thousands of tiny beads onto the white cotton. She can picture her daughter, a traditional Aboriginal dancer, wearing the beautiful boots as she dances at a pow wow.
“When I first started it, I didn’t want to finish—I thought: ‘oh my God, it’s going to take forever,’” Erasmus said laughing. “Then I did one and I thought: ‘it looks not too bad, I think I’ll finish the other one.’”
Erasmus, who is from the Kikino Métis Settlement, was part of Portage College’s annual native arts exposé held in the college’s art studio last Thursday and Friday. The event was a showcase of the Native Arts student’s arts and crafts from throughout the year.
The Kikino woman took one year of Native Arts studies back in 1978, when Portage College was a cluster of trailers called Alberta Vocational College, before coming back last year to complete the course.
“The program has changed in a way where you get to experience what you want to do,” Erasmus said. “You`re open to whatever you want to do—you have that option to explore and do your own thing.”
The Native Arts studio was filled with that individual expression, as students showcased footwear, jewellery, small crafts, hand-painted feathers, carvings, and wicker baskets.
Farron Twoyoungmen from the Nakoda First Nation, located west of Calgary, held up a choker he’d made from long beads and hand-sewn leather. Chokers in that style, he explained, were used by Aboriginal warriors in the 1800s as armour.
Native Arts and Culture Instructor Trudie Allen, herself a graduate from the program in 1996, said students have travelled to take the course from every part of Canada and even the United States.
“In my opinion, our program is unique,” Allen said. “We are one-of-a-kind in Canada. I know there are other programs out there—but we were the first. We`re 32 years here, that`s a long time.”
The instructor said the course not only teaches Aboringal arts and crafts techniques, it also uses the traditional “look, listen, and learn” teaching technique where students learn in a hands-on, visual manner. She said the Native Arts program creates a solid foundation for students to do what they want, be it working as an instructor or forging a career as an artist.
“Most of the ones that have been graduates, especially in the instructor field, they go back to their own communities and they`re running programs,” Allen said. “Look at Violet Cardinal just outside town at Beaver Lake, she`s got her hide tanning camp. And we have students in Ontario who are doing the same thing, or are working in their school system as a cultural teacher.”
In addition to the annual spring showcase, the Native Arts students also host a Christmas sale in November.
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