First Nations workshop teaches crafts, dancing

Matt Gardner
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Visitors to the Gateway Mall last weekend had a rare opportunity to learn special skills associated with First Nations arts and culture.

Dance instructor Alicia Balicki (wearing tan dress) teaches children the finer points of hoop dancing as part of the First Nations crafts workshop on Saturday, just outside the 2013 First Nation Summer Games office at the Gateway Mall.

To celebrate the third annual Culture Days weekend, the 2013 Saskatchewan First Nation Summer Games office held a special workshop to teach people craftmaking and other indigenous art forms such as hoop dancing. The stated objective was to bring together children from Prince Albert and the Muskoday First Nation to learn about different cultural skills.

“We’ve been making dreamcatchers,” Muskoday recreation co-ordinator Stephanie Bear said on Saturday afternoon. “We have different sizes of dreamcatchers for all the kids to make. I made earrings, and we’re doing beading. We’re making some chokers and medallions and some earrings out of the beads. We have kind of a few different things going on for the beading.”

Elder Edith Dreaver took the lead in teaching children how to make the dreamcatchers.

“A dreamcatcher is a symbol that you can hang above your bed, and it is supposed to capture bad dreams and let the good dreams flow through,” she explained.

Does it work?

“I guess it would work if you believed in the spiritual significance of it.”

Traditionally, dreamcatchers were made from red willow. Craftmakers would tie red willow into circles and use sinew to string them up, covering the openings with leather. Today, the process often starts instead with round steel hoops that come in different sizes.

Once taught the basics, workshop participants caught on quickly.

“It doesn’t take too long, once we showed the children how to make them,” Dreaver said. “Yesterday some of them didn’t finish, but once we showed them how to make them, it didn’t take long. Maybe a whole afternoon.”

The Aboriginal culture is important in how we relate to each other today, so that’s why I teach it. Alicia Balicki

A more visible lesson to passing shoppers was the hoop dancing tutorial taught by Alicia Balicki, who volunteered her services after Bear asked if she could come out and dance for the Culture Days weekend.

“When she asked me to do that, she said she was going to bring some kids, because the reason I hoop dance is to teach it to children and to share more of the Aboriginal culture,” Balicki said. “It’s important to share. The Aboriginal culture is important in how we relate to each other today, so that’s why I teach it.”

Hoop dancing involves putting up to 21 hoops on one’s body and using them to create different shapes inspired by Mother Nature. That can include anything from the sun to birds, animals and insects.

Just as important to the physical aspects of hoop dancing are the mental ones.

“In hoop dancing, it is ideal to have a positive mind and a positive heart while dancing,” Balicki said. “It’s the hoop dancer’s responsibility to encourage others to pursue positive goals throughout their lives. So when I teach the children about hoop dancing, I tell them to clear their minds, let go of their issues and their bad day, and to just enjoy themselves and to enjoy hoop dancing.”

As with any art form, meaning typically depends on the individual practicing it. Even the hoops themselves are subject to different interpretations.

“The hoop, to me, represents the circle of life,” Balicki said. “But everyone has their own view, their own representation, I guess, of the culture and how they understand it.”

Organizations: First Nations, Prince Albert, Muskoday First Nation

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