Made by mom: First Nations daughters strut traditional grad dresses stitched with love

'I've been leading up to this day… And I know when I see her, it's going to be very emotional for me.'

'I know when I see her, it's going to be very emotional for me,' says mom Nyla Klugie

Jessa Frost-Klugie is wearing a traditional dress and slippers that her own mother stitched together for her to wear at the First Nations graduation ceremony in Whitehorse on Friday. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Lori Young sat and sewed for many days, into the late hours.

"You're supposed to sew with good thoughts," said Young. "I just kept thinking, 'OK, I got my grandmothers' — and that spurred me on into the midnight hour."

Young stitched together a traditional dress for her Grade 12 daughter's First Nations graduation ceremony — an event Young herself had been part of over a decade ago. There were only a handful of students back then, compared to this year's 109, said Young.

By Friday, the beaded dress with matching slippers was ready and Zaria Netro modeled her mother's creation at the 2017 Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) graduation in Whitehorse, where high school students in traditional regalia lined up to receive their diplomas.

Frost-Klugie's dress (far right) is adorned with beaded flowers that hold special meaning. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

In the crowd sat another mother, Nyla Klugie, who also watched her own daughter wear a traditional dress, stitched with love by Klugie.

"I was kind of nervous about how you [sew] it," said Klugie. "Because I've made dresses when Jess was little — little costumes, but nothing customized."

They have a great meaning.- Nyla Klugie

Klugie, along with her daughter's godmother, worked on Jessa Frost-Klugie's traditional regalia.

"I've been leading up to this day… And I know when I see her, it's going to be very emotional for me," said Klugie, the day before her daughter's big day.

There were 109 graduates at this year's Council of Yukon First Nations graduation ceremony in Whitehorse. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

"You start them in kindergarten. Everything leads up to this moment… One more step, and they're out the door," said Young, emotions welling up.

It was the first time for both mothers to watch their child graduate.

Patterns with 'great meaning'

Young's mother owns the Indian Craft Shop in Whitehorse.
Zaria Netro, daughter of Lori Young, in her graduation dress on Friday. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

"So we've pretty much grown up sewing. My daughter was two and she had a needle and thread," said Young.

The beading has a generational connection. "We're fortunate enough to have some of my daughter's great-grandmother's beadwork. So we've been trying to match that."

On Klugie's daughter's dress, there are flowers symbolizing family members who have died, and those that are still here.

"They have a great meaning," said Klugie. "It's part of our culture."

Klugie says she hopes her daughter will treasure the dress, and pass it down.

"We go through a lot of trials and tribulations as parents, and we do our best as mothers to give the best to our children," said Klugie.

"Hopefully, they'll keep it for their children."

With files from Sandi Coleman