'You feel your elders with you': Mi'kmaq artisans draw on tradition

The work of over 40 Mi’kmaq artisans were on display at the Mi’kmaq/Indigenous Artisan market on Sunday. Artists were selling handmade jewellery, quill art, leather medicine wheels, dreamcatchers and photography.

'It is important that we keep our traditions and our way of life alive'

Some artisans hoped that customers would take some knowledge of the Mi'kmaq culture with them after they visited the market. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

For Mi'kmaq artisans displaying their work Sunday in Charlottetown, the event meant more than just selling their work.

"When you do things that your elders used to do, your ancestors used to do, they kind of show up and they guide your hands," said Patsy Bernard."You really feel it, you feel your elders with you."

The work of over 40 Mi'kmaq artisans was on display at the Mi'kmaq/Indigenous Artisan market on Sunday at the Confederation Centre.

Artists sold handmade jewellery, quill art, leather medicine wheels, dream catchers and photography. The event showcased Mi'kmaq culture on P.E.I.

Bernard was weaving small basket earrings for her daughter's table. She said her mother taught her how to make baskets in the 1980s. 

"My ancestors are here with me, here now, and here with us."

Bernard said it's important these skills are passed on to the next generation. 

"This was our way of life at one point in time. This is how we survived. We made baskets, we sold them, we traded them. That's our history."

'When you do things that your elders used to do, your ancestors used to do, that kind of shows up and they guide your hands,' says Patsy Bernard. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

Jim Bernard also sold baskets made from black ash.

He said he has been making baskets since the 1950s when his parents sold them to farmers to make a living. He said the baskets are important in the history of the Mi'kmaq.

"This basket brought us through the Depression when there wasn't a cent to be found anywhere," he said. "The natives would go into the woods, cut down an ash tree, or maple tree, and make these baskets and sell them to the farmers."

Jim Bernard says it's important that the Mi'kmaq people keep the tradition and culture alive, which is why he continues to make these baskets. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

Now that there is less demand for the baskets, Bernard said he does it to keep the tradition alive. He makes them in his spare time and for him its meaningful work. 

"It is important that we keep our traditions and our way of life alive," he said. 

Sense of belonging

For Meagan Battiste, being under the same roof as 40 other Indigenous artists meant something special to her. 

"It's absolutely amazing to be honest," she said. "I never felt like I belonged anywhere. And I felt like my artwork was only just a part of a craft.

"I see it now as something somebody can take back and cherish with them, and to take a piece of our community and our culture with them."

Battiste is a fifth-generation basket weaver. She was taught by her mother and has been making baskets for seven years.

She said she hopes she will pass what she learned on to her children. 

Meagan Battiste says she now sees her work as more than just crafts. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

"It's sacred to me," she said. "And it's something that I would love to see further on within our future generations because it's a part of who we are, and it's a part of who we are as Mi'kmaq people."

She hopes people shopping at the market take home more than just the crafts.

"I'm hoping they take back a little bit of knowledge with them," she said.

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