Nfld. & Labrador

Indigenous wampum belt tells a unique tale to connect youth across the province

A project that started at the Grenfell campus in Newfoundland has been touring the entire province.

The project gives youth the chance to become involved in a centuries old tradition

Youth at the Sheshatshiu Ussinun Youth Centre work together to craft the wampum belt. (Mark Squibb/CBC)

People all across the province have been given the opportunity to help craft a traditional wampum belt.

The wampum belt is a traditional Indigenous craft and story telling device. Crafters use thousands of white and purple beads to create images which are symbolic or represent important treaties or historic moments.

The project began at the Grenfell campus in Corner Brook, with Kelly Anne Butler, the Aboriginal Affairs officer, and the Indigenous student caucus. The Grenfell group designated which symbols would be used to represent each indigenous group in the province, and then sent out an open call to the public to send in designs.

"We had such a good response, we have extra designs that aren't going to fit on the main belt, so we already have plans to make a second belt… everyone that submits a design will have their design woven," said Butler.

Weaving of the belt began at the Grenfell campus in January, and since then Butler has brought the belt to St. John's, Boyd's Cove, Gander, Port au Choix, Bay. St. George, Sheshatshiu, and North West River — where she introduces the belt to new audiences and collects more designs.

She estimates that between 60 and 70 people have worked on the belt thus far.

We are all connected

The theme of the belt is that we are all connected.

"It's a common wampum theme… we're all connected in some way," said Butler. "It's really easy for use to focus on differences that we have, but there are a lot of things we have in common as well."

Kelly Anne Butler, Aboriginal Affairs officer at Grenfeull campus, teaches youth in Sheshatshiu how to craft the belt. (Mark Squibb/CBC)

Butler describes belt crafting as both a community building experience and a spiritual one as well.  She also says that is easy to learn.

"Some people just sit right down, pick up the needle, and go to town.  And others are kind of timid.  They're afraid they're going to break it or something's going to go wrong.  Once they start working on it, they realize that it's not that hard."

"It was definitely a great opportunity to learn this traditional craft… I was suprised with how simple it was," said Sofia Champion, a visitor from Toronto who had never seen a wampum belt before that day.

Shikuan Nuna was familiar with wampum belts, but had never worked on one before.

"I thought it was pretty unique," said Nuna.

A traditional belt is six feet long, and composed of between 10 and 12 thousand tiny beads.The craft predates European arrival, but was most prevalent during this time.

"This is when newcomers showed up and there had to be agreements made to how people where going to coexist and maintain relationships on the land," explained Butler. "Unfortunately, a lot of them were not honoured." 


Mark Squibb is a freelance journalist based in Conception Bay North.

With files from Labrador Morning