Most people attribute ornate beadwork to First Nation people, but Métis people also have a rich and unique history of making beautiful art with beads.

Artist Jennine Krauchi has been beading all her life, and her work is now featured at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

She was approached by the museum to make a larger than life octopus bag - an item that is deeply rooted in her Métis heritage.

Jennine Krauchi

Metis artist Jennine Krauchi standing with the octopus bag she created for the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. (John Woods/CMHR)

What is an octopus bag?

"It's actually called a fire bag, and probably it was a European who started calling it an Octopus bag, because of all the fingers at the bottom," said Krauchi.

"A lot of Métis men carried these bags, and they were called fire bags for a reason because they carried their flint, their steel strikers, numerous things that would be needed for starting a fire."

The origins of the bag are unknown, but versions of it popped up across the country.

"You could tell each region, or who was doing a certain bag by the style of beadwork that they were doing," said Krauchi.

While each beadwork artist has their unique style, Métis beadwork stands apart because of the patterns and the colours of beads used.

Krauchi says Métis beadwork is unique because it combines two cultures - French embroidery patterns were combined with indigenous beading practices. And Métis beadwork patterns incorporate imagery from nature, such as flowers.

Octopus bag

Octopus bags were carried by Metis men to store the needed supplies to start fires. This is a replica of the 26 foot tall bag on display at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. (Stephanie Cram)

"We were given the name, the flower beadwork people," said Krauchi.

Standing at 26 feet tall, the octopus bag on display at the museum is thought to be the largest of its type in the world.

With only four months to complete the bag, Krauchi reached out to her mother to lend a hand. The two worked tirelessly over the summer of 2014.

"I spent the majority of the summer under a hot, wool blanket beaded, trying to get this done," said Krauchi.

Unconsciously she included nine flowers in the design of the octopus bag, which later came to represent nine road allowance communities.

Up until the 1950s, Metis people lived in makeshift communities built on government-owned land, earning them the title of the road allowance people. The government would often force the communities off of the land using extreme measures, including bulldozing or burning down their houses.  

One of the last Winnipeg road allowance communities was Rooster Town, situated where Grant Park is now. This community lasted until the late 1950s, when the community was kicked out and relocated to low-income housing.

"I'm very proud of this, because I think it represents us as Métis people… and the struggles we have gone through," said Krauchi.

"And that's why in one part of the octopus bag there is a rose that represents the survival of the Métis - I'm very, very proud of this piece."