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Crafts, Folk Art And Ethnic Culture

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MAY 1980      v10 n05 p23  
Interest in crafts, folk art, and ethnic culture is on the increase, not only among the Indian people seeking their "roots'.', but among the other ethnic groups of Saskatchewan.

A number of artists are crossing cultural barriers to evolve a new art form, while others stick to traditional practices.

With the rediscovery of the "lost arts", a number of fine craftspeople have developed in the province. Their stories, along with photographs appear in a recent Saskatchewan Government publication entitled SASKATCHEWAN CRAFTSPEOPLE.

Featured in the book are potters, woodcarvers, and even a wheelwright.

Three of the craftspeople also featured are Saskatchewan Indians working with traditional materials to produce functional, creative and ceremonial artifacts.

Featured in this edition of the Saskatchewan Indian are their stories, and some of the many photos which appear in SASKATCHEWAN CRAFTSPEOPLE.

Free copies of SASKATCHEWAN CRAFTSPEOPLE are available by writing: Visual Arts and Crafts Co-ordinator, Cultural Activities Branch, Saskatchewan Culture and Youth, 11th Floor, Avord Towers, 2002 Victoria Street, Regina, Saskatchewan, S4P 3V7.

Jim Ryder

Jim Ryder, of Fort Qu'Appelle, is the Resident Elder for Regina's Saskatchewan Indian Federated College. He interprets legends, teaches dancing, and' gives ceremonial and native cultural instruction, as well as making traditional dancing regalia for pow-wow ceremonies.

Jim considers himself a teacher of Indian ways and not merely a crafts instructor. "I want to educate the Indian in his own culture so that the younger people will learn the traditional ways. People will better understand the Indian culture that way. Communication is getting better all the time as people begin to understand the roots of our tradition," he says.

Raised by grandparents, Jim assimilated Assiniboine legends, medicines and an understanding of herbs from a grandmother who escaped the Cypress Hills massacre. His maternal grandparents, descendents of survivors of Custer's last stand at the Little Big Horn gave him a solid background in Sioux culture as well. On long winter days the elders visited his grandparents, telling and retelling the old legends.

Where possible, Jim uses natural materials for his head dresses, breastplates, hats and bustles. Deer and buffalo hair, porcupine-quills, eagle feathers, shells, and the pelts

Jim Ryder in traditional Indian dress
Jim Ryder in traditional Indian dress.

Crafts, Folk Art And Ethnic Culture

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MAY 1980      v10 n05 p24  
Jim Ryder

of weasel and mink adorn his work.

Now the only creator of eagle feather headdresses in Canada, his work is known across the country. Most of the beadwork is done by his wife, Sarah.

"Everything I make has been taught to me by my elders. All designs mean something and all colours mean something. At one time you could identify an Indian by his beadwork," he says. "Now an Indian has no identity. Our new generation is mixing it all up. The Indian has lost his way of dressing."

Jim Ryder, a teacher of Indian ways
Jim considers himself a teacher of Indian ways and not merely a crafts instructor.
Jim Ryder's work
Deer and buffalo hair, porcupine quills, eagle feathers, shells and the pelts of weasel and mink adorn Jim's work.

Crafts, Folk Art And Ethnic Culture

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MAY 1980      v10 n05 p25  
Angelique Merasty

Angelique Merasty, a woodlands Cree, practices the almost forgotten Indian craft of biting designs onto folded sections of birch bark. She has been creating birch bark pictures since 1935 when, as a girl of eight, she learned from watching her grandmother.

Traditionally a symbolic art form, Angelique can recall bitings being done in tribal contest to see who could make the best designs. Her mother, Susan Ballantyne, was a champion in her day, winning herself a place in a local history text. Now 86, Susan is no longer able to do bitings. She has lost the tools of her trade -- her eye teeth.

The most time-consuming aspect of birch bark biting is locating suitable bark. Angelique lives on an island near Denare Beach and days are set aside when she and her husband Bill comb the nearby islands in search of good trees whose bark is like paper - free from knots and colour imperfections. Birch bark is layered and a good piece may yield five or six useable sheets, but the tree must be young and supple if the bark is to be soft enough to take the design. The bark is carefully folded and the design gently bitten into it. To keep it from drying out, the finished piece is preserved in plastic.

Angelique's designs have expanded from simple geometrics and flower patterns to more complex birds, animals, insects and figure images drawn from her own environment.

Angelique Merasty and birch bark biting

Angelique Merasty and birch bark biting Angelique Merasty and birch bark biting
Angelique Merasty and birch bark biting Angelique Merasty and birch bark biting

Now that she is the only person in Saskatchewan or Manitoba practicing the craft, Angelique is worried that birch bark biting skills will die out. Her bitings sell to people in the area, to tourists who come to the north to fish, and to galleries and libraries in some larger centres. Museums have also preserved her bitings as part of native ethnology collections.

Angelique enjoys craftwork. She also makes birch bark baskets with porcupine quill designs and has recently begun painting landscapes. And she's even been known to kill her own moose and tan the hide for moccasins and jackets.

Crafts, Folk Art And Ethnic Culture

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MAY 1980      v10 n05 p26  
Florine Hotomoni Florine Hotomoni

In the early summer, as the willows are ripening in the Qu'Appelle Valley, Florine Hotomoni of the Saulteaux tribe goes gathering twigs for her woven willow baskets. She still lives on the Kahkewistahaw Reserve near Broadview where her grandmother taught her the craft when she was a young girl of thirteen. "She used, to keep a big tub filled right to the top with twigs," recalls Florine. Plains Indians traditionally wove willow baskets for functional purposes - as cradles or as baskets for gathering and storing food.

Florine can tell by the feel and colour of the twigs when they're ready to use. If they aren't just right they'll crack. "I just bring a bunch of sticks in and sit on the rug and sort them out," she says. "It makes a big mess." She uses the long ones for laundry baskets and the shorter ones for wall baskets or cradles. Some of the red twigs are peeled, exposing the white flesh which can be woven in to create a pattern. Once the young willow branches have developed a uniform colouring and are ready to use, Florine can continue to gather them until freeze up.

The basket frame and ribs (made from red willow. because it's stronger than the brown) are secured with leather thongs. Then the young twigs are woven onto them. Once the materials are assembled, it takes an hour and a half to three hours to complete a piece, and Florine says she can't make them fast enough to keep her local market supplied.

"I like basket weaving and it gives me a bit of extra money," says the mother of five. Her two daughters "haven't picked it up yet," but the eldest son, 13-year old. Kevin, is interested in learning the craft. "I've started to teach him. He knows a little bit, but he's curious and wants to know everything," she says.

Florine Hotomoni Florine Hotomoni