Discover Indigenous crafts, skills and culture to enrich your winter

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Looking for something to do indoors this winter, in Alberta or BC? Or seeking more ways to learn about Indigenous cultures in Canada? Learn a new craft or skill through Indigenous creators and artisans and open the door to new experiences. 

Some days winter can feel endless. During those times when you're indoors and you may not know what to do with yourself, make this the opportunity to get inspired and learn something new – a craft, a skill or even taking a course on a topic you’ve always been curious about.

Western Canada’s Indigenous cultures offer the perfect springboard for broadening your knowledge. There are a number of Indigenous-led events, craft and educational workshops you can attend in real time or take online. Starting now and into 2022, there will also be opportunities (finally!) for in-person, hands-on learning and events.

To begin your quest to expand your Indigenous knowledge, here are several online and in-person workshops and courses offered through Alberta and B.C.-based Indigenous-led businesses and organizations.

Moonstone Creation, Calgary, Alberta

How awesome would it be to say you made a pair of traditional moccasins for yourself, a friend or as a Christmas gift for your newborn niece or nephew?

That’s just one of several online craft workshops offered through Moonstone Creation, an Indigenous owned and operated shop in Calgary’s Inglewood neighbourhood. The moccasin-making classes and other craft workshops are offered by online video instruction. When you sign up, you’re sent the materials kit and you’re good to go. The online tutorials are super helpful because you can pause, back up or replay each step of the way.

Two of the most popular crafting workshops are the beaded poppy and beaded orange shirt brooch, says Mary Dela Torre, who works at the shop.

“These are the most accessible, because people can wear them every year or all the time,” Dela Torre says. A portion of the proceeds go to the Aboriginal Veterans Association or the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba, respectively.

If you happen to be in the Inglewood neighbourhood, Moonstone is a must-stop spot for checking out Indigenous-made art, clothing, fabrics, jewelry and traditional items, representing more than 60 Indigenous artists from across Canada.

Beading and leatherwork feature prominently in many Indigenous crafts.

Painted Warriors, near Sundre, AB.

An alternative, outdoor Indigenous experience, near Calgary is at Painted Warriors. The Indigenous-owned adventure company is just one hour northwest of Calgary in the foothills of the Rockies. It offers courses on animal tracking, snowshoeing, archery and more, during one- to multi-day stays. Bonus: You can spend the night and glamp in a traditional Métis tent.

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Métis Crossing, Edmonton, Alberta

Métis Crossing is set on 512 beautiful acres about an hour-and-a-half northeast of Edmonton. The interpretive centre, the first of its kind in Alberta, invites people to explore the rich and storied culture of the Métis. Métis Crossing is dedicated to teaching people the heritage of Alberta’s largest Indigenous population.

Starting December 9, you can sign up online for a number of in-person, hands-on new and previously offered workshops and activities, says manager Leon Hunter. 

The programs are guided by Lilyrose Meyers, a Knowledge Holder and traditional arts teacher who has been at Métis Crossing for 15 years. She’s passionate about keeping the traditional arts alive.

“We’re losing these things, and I want to bring them back,” she says about crafts, using such tools as porcupine quills and hair-tufting from animal hides. “It’s so neat to learn those things; it’s using what the land provides.”

Lilyrose Meyers, knowledge holder, shares her experiences on the trapline with visitors to MétisCrossing.

Tales from the Trapline: This popular indoor/outdoor program has guests spending the day, wearing snowshoes and a cozy traditional capote – a Métis wool, hooded robe – and following in the footsteps of Métis trappers. Along they way, you’ll learn what Métis trappers ate, how they set traplines and built shelters, plus learn crafts and games.

Watch this ZenSeekers video for an introduction to the experience (note: footage taken in 2019, pre-COVID restrictions):

 

Traditional Art Workshops, Jan. 9 to Feb. 6: If learning a new craft is more your thing, you can learn how to make mittens, a Métis capote, a ribbon skirt or shawl, a moss bag, or learn finger weaving at Métis Crossing. Classes are limited to 20 participants, so invite a couple of friends along.

Family day weekend, Feb. 19-21: New for 2022, is the Traditional Tanned Animal Hide Symposium, where guests will learn hands-on traditional Métis hide tanning. Based on the teachings of a Métis elder and with the knowledge of the Alberta Trappers Association, expert instructors guide participants in the ways of tanning hide, giving a deeper understanding of Métis traditions.

A colourful selection of crafting materials in the Metis tradition.

Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, Whistler

Live near Vancouver or Whistler? Take the opportunity to visit the architecturally striking Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, which is also offering in-person classes for a number of craft workshops this winter.

Learn to make a 10-inch drum, beaded earrings, a dreamcatcher or a cedar paddle rattle, just a sampling of some of educational opportunities offered. Through December 18, the cost of the workshop includes craft materials, a special activity, lunch and admission to the exhibits. The programs are popular with all ages, says Allison Burns Joseph, who runs the cultural indigenous youth ambassador training programs.

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Indigenous Canada Online Course, University of Alberta

If you’d like to delve deeper into Indigenous culture, you can take the free course, Indigenous Canada, offered on the Coursera website by the University of Alberta. I’m close to finishing this excellent 12-week course myself, which you can take at your leisure.

Guaranteed, it will open your eyes to Indigenous history, traditions, pre-colonialization, Indigenous-settler relations and issues facing Indigenous communities today.

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