Reviving Tradition: Aboriginal Moccasin-Making Workshop Comes to Carleton

Carleton is one of several Canadian universities hosting a Storyboot School this fall. (Sarah Brazauskas Photo)

Carleton students will have a chance to test their flair for fashion while learning about Aboriginal culture this fall during a six-week program that will teach the art of crafting moccasins.

The Centre for Aboriginal Culture and Education (CACE) is hosting the Storyboot School in partnership with Manitobah Mukluks, an Aboriginal-owned company based in Winnipeg that creates authentic moccasins and mukluks and has become the fastest-growing footwear line in Canada.

“One of (our) fundamental values is creating reciprocal relationships with communities,” says Naomi Sarazin, Aboriginal cultural liaison officer at CACE.

“This does that trifold, because we’re giving back to the students, we’re also working with an Algonquin community and we’re working with an Aboriginal organization like Manitobah Mukluks,” she says.

An Aboriginal artist from Kitigan Zibi, an Algonquin community north of Ottawa, will lead the program on Wednesday evenings from Sept. 16 to Oct. 21. Students will learn how to make pucker-toe moccasins, which include a beaded vamp and are traditional to Algonquin communities.

“Working with Kitigan Zibi is really important for me, because (Carleton is) on Algonquin territory,” Sarazin says. “I wanted to be able to promote an artist from this region.”

The Storyboot School is open to Carleton students at no cost and is also being offered as an optional assignment in some classes – a second-year art history course and a first-year seminar.

The goal of the program is to raise awareness about the tradition of moccasin-making while promoting Indigenous knowledge within the Carleton community. While CACE has held similar weekend workshops, this is the first long-term program.

“It’s about, on a lot of levels, creating pride in who the students are by celebrating their culture and having that tradition passed down,” says Waneek Horn-Miller, a Carleton alumna and director of the Storyboot program. “It’s to make the students feel like they’re part of this process of cultural revitalization.”

The Storyboot project was started in Winnipeg last year as a way to preserve culture and support economic development in Aboriginal communities. For every pair of storyboots that Manitobah Mukluks sells, 100 per cent of the profits go to the artist who created them.

Now the Storyboot School is being brought to university campuses, including the University of British Columbia, University of Toronto and McGill University.

“Being that it’s a centre for learning and higher education, what a perfect place to have knowledge passed down,” Horn-Miller says of bringing the project to Carleton.

“I’m a Mohawk and I’m really proud of who I am. And I really feel like having this opportunity to make mukluks and learn from an expert would have been something I would have loved when I went to Carleton.”

Not only will the program foster a sense of community, says Sarazin, but it will help students develop skills they could possibly use in their own economic ventures.

“It’s a wonderful thing to partner with the centre there to bring this class to the university and hopefully it will be the start of many collaborations in the future,” Horn-Miller says.

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