Repatriation through crafting

Making moccasins and rethinking museums

Cynthia Boehm is leading the second session in her three-part moccasin-making teaching series at the Manitoba Museum on March 3.

Boehm began beading a few years ago.

“It started off as wanting to try something new and something related to my culture,” she says.

Boehm is Cree and from Norway House, which Dr. Maureen Matthews, curator of cultural anthropology at the Manitoba Museum, says is associated with a very unique and identifiable beading style.

Boehm has taught moccasin workshops in Selkirk, Thompson and Winnipeg, as well as beading demonstrations in Phoenix.

She says it takes a lot of preparation to get the materials and create the kits for the workshops.

“I’m really inspired when I teach just to see what comes out of the workshops and the newfound appreciation from a lot of the participants,” she says.

“The most rewarding thing about teaching, I find, is just to see the pride on my students’ faces to know that they’ve made something so beautiful with their own two hands. It reminds me of when I first started crafting, how I felt. It really connected me to my culture.

“For me, there’s a sense of accomplishment. It connects me to my culture. This is what my ancestors did, and it makes me feel really proud to know that I’m doing it,” she says “I’m very proud to carry that tradition on.”

Boehm also says holding the workshop in the Manitoba Museum gives participants the opportunity to examine the pieces held by the museum and see their work as part of a long tradition.

Matthews, who is responsible for the collection of objects of interest to or made by Indigenous peoples primarily in Manitoba, says her approach to her position has largely been to try to make the collection as accessible to Indigenous people as possible.

This includes making resources available to the general public and an Indigenous scholars program in addition to workshops like Boehm’s.

These workshops are part of the museum’s push toward skills repatriation, which Matthews hopes will help to shift ideas about how museum collections can be used.

She says some people who work with the collection and use different pieces as a basis to learn and teach come to refer to the collection’s objects as “elder objects, as the grannies and aunties they’re going to go visit,” and she hopes people come to see the collection as a basis for learning and repatriation.

“That’s what we’d really like to see, that the museum is not where all the beautiful stuff is. Indigenous community members can make beautiful things and learn from the collection,” and have beautiful things out in the community, she says. “We want this museum to be corrective of the idea that Indigeneity is in the past.”

Boehm will also be leading a three-part moccasin workshop with the Manitoba Crafts Museum and Library starting on March 16.

Published in Volume 73, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 28, 2019)

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