A jacket, slippers and Treaty 11: Tłı̨chǫ seamstresses create historic garments to mark 100 years

A museum exhibit coming to The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife next month will commemorate the upcoming 100th anniversary of the signing of Treaty 11.

Museum exhibit to include 'Tłı̨chǫ infusion' treaty jacket replica

Tłı̨chǫ seamstress Georgina Frankie sewed a replica of a jacket chiefs were given as part of the Treaty 11 agreement 100 years ago. It will be part of a museum exhibit at the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre in Yellowknife to mark 100 years since the treaty was signed. (John Van Dusen/CBC News)

Georgina Frankie spreads out a white cloth in her Yellowknife home, overlooking a work in progress — a hand-sewn replica of a jacket chiefs were given as part of the Treaty 11 agreement.

Her work will be part of a museum exhibit coming to The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife in July, to commemorate the upcoming 100th anniversary of the signing of Treaty 11, the last of Canada's numbered treaties with First Nations, covering more than 950,000 square kilometres spanning the three territories.

Chief Monfwi, pictured in 1935, with a Treaty 11 medal and military-style jacket given to him. The treaty promised the chiefs a suit of clothing every three years. (G.R. Reid/Glenbow Museum Archives)

The jacket is based off archive photos of treaty jackets from the 1920s and 30s, and a pattern from a 1959 specifications "For Indian Uniforms."

A detailed list of coat specifications 'For Indian Uniforms' dated Dec. 4, 1959, from the then federal Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. (Library and Archives Canada)

Frankie's jacket also incorporates a bit of "Tłı̨chǫ infusion" she said, with an embellishment based on a design from a pair of moccasins.

Polished brass buttons have also been swapped for ones made out of moose antlers.

Frankie's jacket includes an embellishment inspired from a pair of pointed-toe slippers as seen in the book From the Land: Two Hundred Years of Dene Clothing. (John Van Dusen/CBC News)

The jacket will also be featured at a festival scheduled in August following the Tłı̨chǫ Assembly in Behchokǫ̀ scheduled for mid-August, before the anniversary.

A pair of moccasin pointed toe slippers will also be featured, created by artist and elder Frances Richardson.

Frances Richardson's pointed-toe slippers will be part of a museum exhibit on the 100th anniversary of Treaty 11. (John Van Dusen/CBC News)

Richardson used porcupine quills that she has kept from her mother. She figures she's held onto them for more than 40 years.

"The next 100 years, I don't think I'll be around. But it will be nice if it will be still there," she said of the slippers.

"I hope they like it."

The slippers are made out of caribou and moose hide and feature porcupine quills. (John Van Dusen/CBC News)

The items were selected for different reasons. The coat was something more contemporary, given from the government of Canada to the Chiefs, explained Tammy Steinwand-Deschambeault, the director of the Tłı̨chǫ government's Department of Culture and Lands Protection.

"It could be seen as something positive. It could be seen as something negative," she said.

"I think it's just a symbol as a gift."

The slippers, she said, serve a different purpose.

"Today we still see the pointed toe slippers," she said. "It shows ... Indigenous people were resilient and that we need to carry on, and it helps us to remember that.

Tammy Steinwand-Deschambeault is the director of the Tłı̨chǫ government’s Department of Culture and Lands Protection. (John Van Dusen/CBC News)

Reflecting on the past 100 years since the signing, Tłı̨chǫ Grand Chief George Mackenize said the centennial anniversary is something to celebrate, despite its reluctant origins.

Chief Monwfi, who signed Treaty 11 on Aug. 22, 1921, was hesitant to sign the document, he explains.

"He didn't trust the federal government," Mackenzie said.

"He reluctantly signed it with coaching from the missionaries, from the bishop. He said, 'he's a man of God, so he must be telling the truth.' That's why he was persuaded to sign Treaty 11." 

Tłı̨chǫ Grand Chief George Mackenzie outside of his home in Behchokǫ̀, N.W.T., June 14. (John Van Dusen/CBC News)

A hundred years later, Mackenzie said the treaty gives his people more than just an annual $5 from the government, promised in the treaty. 

"I'm on my homeland, I have a special recognition," he said.

"I can go hunting, trapping, fishing without no restrictions."

Treaty 11 he explains, also paved the way for self-government. The Tłı̨chǫ Land Claims and Self-Government Agreement was ratified in 2005, the first such agreement signed in the Northwest Territories.

"We're a young government, we still have a long ways to go," he said.

"But if we didn't have this package, it would be an awkward situation. We would be a less privileged people on our homeland and it would have been very sad. I think … Monfwi knew what was coming."

Back inside Georgina Frankie's house, she said having her work part of the anniversary is an emotional experience.

"Our road is paved for us by our ancestors' words: strong like two people. And as long as the river flows and the sun shines, we will not be restricted from our inherited rights. This is what [Monfwi] said, not our words but this is his word," she said.

"We have what our ancestors wanted."