Bead, Hide and Fur Symposium returns to the Yukon

The fashion and design workshop returned this year for its third edition in Whitehorse. Indigenous artists, mostly women, connected through beading, sewing and other traditional skills.

The event for Indigenous artists was back following a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19

A participant demonstrates a weaving technique at the Bead, Hide and Fur Symposium in Whitehorse on Nov. 12, 2022. The three-day event offered the chance for Indigenous artists to showcase their skills and exchange knowledge. (Virginie Ann/CBC News)

Indigenous women from all over the Yukon and beyond sat down together in Whitehorse over the weekend to share their needles, knowledge and traditional fashion skills. 

"It's about intergenerational knowledge transfer," said Joella Hogan, a member of the Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association's board of directors. 

"It's really the coming together of matriarchs who are carrying our craft and building a different economy."

The non-profit organization hosted the third edition of the Bead, Hide and Fur Symposium from Nov. 11-13 at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre following a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19.

About 160 women attended the event, looking for inspiration and collaboration, Hogan said.

"It's like a giant sewing circle, everybody is sitting around sewing, beading, doing quill work and continuing their craft," she said. 

Joella Hogan, member of the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun, stands inside the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, in Whitehorse. She says the goals of the Yukon First Nations Cultural and Tourism Association, which hosted the three-day event, was to meet the needs of Indigenous artists, build skills and share them. (Virginie Ann/CBC News)

Several workshops were offered throughout the weekend, including tufting techniques — a three-dimensional art, made with caribou and moose hair. Other topics included how to price Indigenous art and a conversation on cultural appropriation. 

Hogan, a member of the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun in Mayo, about 400 kilometres north of Whitehorse, said she is seeing Indigenous art work being appropriated all the time. From Inuit designs on jackets for runways in Europe, to Orange Shirt Day items, the exploitation of Indigenous culture is "everywhere," she said. 

"What it's taking away from, is that cultural protocol and practice of patterns being passed down through families and generations and being able to trace it back," Hogan said.

"If people aren't doing that, then it's disrupting the culture's ways of passing knowledge on."

The event, she continued, was a way to offer a space for different generations to meet and trade traditions. 

The event showcased beautiful beading work. Participants were selling materials such as beading and sewing supplies among each other. (Virginie Ann/CBC News )

One of the event's guest speakers was fashion designer Natasha Peter.

The 32-year-old woman from Ross River, northeast of Whitehorse, has been creating traditional clothing and jewlery for the past six years and recently showcased her work at the International Indigenous Fashion Week in Paris.

That milestone only came two weeks after she presented her designs at New York Fashion Week last September.

"I have traditional skills and people need to see that," said Peter, who is Kaska-Dena. "Elders are passing away. At my age, it's important for me to learn as much as I can and pass it on to the younger generation to keep my culture alive." 

Peter was one of several speakers at the event. In an emotional speech, she talked about her journey and how sewing helped her get out of dark spots in her life. The crowd was silently nodding, sewing as she spoke of lost ones and challenges. 

For Hogan, seeing women empowering each other was what the event was all about. 

"We all need more role models in our lives, and to be able to see the wonderful opportunities and careers that can come from cultural practices and how it can help in our lives and connecting to our communities," she said.