Park program explores traditional crafts

Matt Gardner
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One of the most popular activities for summer visitors to Waskesiu are the aboriginal culture programs offered by interpreter Judy Fiddler.

Throughout the summer, Fiddler teaches guests at the Prince Albert National Park Visitor Centre aspects of traditional indigenous culture through four different programs: Aboriginal Games, Mother Earth as Healer (discussing natural remedies used as medicine), Home and Hearth (featuring aboriginal stories and food) and Traditional Crafts.

The latter program -- which presents visitors with an opportunity to learn about beading, finger weaving and sash making and their roles in aboriginal cultures – was also the last of the season for Fiddler, who could be seen on Sunday teaching traditional craft-making skills near the tipi by the Visitor Centre.

“The people here made use of everything,” Fiddler noted early in her presentation. “There was nothing that they didn’t make use of, and they made it themselves.”

Fiddler, who is Métis, drew heavily upon her own culture for the presentation.

Métis culture, she noted, differs from other cultures, which tend to be based on language and/or geography.

“Ours is the only culture that was created to meet an economic need,” she pointed out.

When European hunters, trappers and fur traders who came to Canada married indigenous women, they gained valuable knowledge from their wives’ traditional culture, which enabled them to better obtain food and clothing -- including the lucrative furs they sought.

Many of the European settlers were French, and the Quebec town of Assomption lent its name to the traditional Métis sash, which is also known as an Assomption sash (though the Scottish kilt and tartan also had an influence).

A crucial part of Métis culture, the sash had a truly dizzying array of uses, as Fiddler noted to the assembled visitors.

By tying knots in the thread at the end of the sash, traders could keep track of their inventory, while the same method could also be used as a calendar to count the passing days.

By using the sturdy sash as a receptacle, one could use it as a cup to hold water.

“It was immensely strong,” Fiddler noted. “It could pull all kinds of weight. It was to use to hold your coat. It could help identify what family you were from -- because of design, the colours helped to identify what allegiance you were for the fur trading.”

The people here made use of everything. There was nothing that they didn’t make use of, and they made it themselves. Judy Fiddler

“The thread itself becomes used for sewing,” she added. “There are just so many things.”

The colours of the sash themselves had a deep symbolic meaning for the Métis.

Red represented their aboriginal mothers, while white represented their European fathers. Yellow referred to growth and honour, green to prosperity and blue to the Métis flag.

The inclusion of black on the sashes carried a more somber meaning for the Métis, symbolizing their remembrance of loss (notably the loss of their homes).

Pointing towards her own sash, which was six feet, seven inches long, Fiddler noted that it would take 300 hours to weave together.

“If you got one nine feet tall, that was extremely large, and you’d be paying a very pretty penny for that,” she said.

Following her presentation, Fiddler taught the visitors the intricacies of finger weaving, the technique used to make the sash.

The method involves carefully weaving a thread over and under a line of other threads, with a pencil taped to a picnic table used to keep the threads in place.

Younger visitors on Sunday also had the chance to make friendship bracelets, which -- while not matching the sheer number of uses as the Métis sash – represented a distinct art of its own.

“It was a simple ornament, yes -- but it was also a craft,” Fiddler said.

Though the end of summer brings with it the end of Fiddler’s programs, the interpreter plans to return again next year.

She described a fairly high number of visitors in attendance at her heritage presentations this past season.

“These are pretty popular programs.”

See also:

Heritage interpreter shares aboriginal culture

Organizations: Prince Albert National Park Visitor Centre

Geographic location: Canada, Quebec

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