Storyboot workshop teaches moccasin-making, promoting 'reconciliation stitch by stitch'
Indigenous instructor says she teaches to keep ancestors' skills alive
For Rosary Spence, making moccasins is about more than the craft itself — which demands patience and skill in both beading and sewing — it's about preserving a culture.
"It's in our memory, our blood memory, to use these skills and work with our hands," she told CBC Toronto.
And as people across Canada celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day on Sunday, Spence said it's important for her culture to keep the traditions of her ancestors alive.
Spence, who is Swampy Cree, has been making moccasins since she was eight years old. It was her grandmother, she says, who shared her knowledge of the craft.
"When I was younger, it was more something to do at home," she said.
But since her grandmother passed away, Spence said creating moccasins has shifted from a time-consuming activity to a way of preserving a generations-old tradition.
And wanting to pass down that knowledge to others is why she teaches the skill.
Spence instructs a workshop at the Bata Shoe Museum, located near Bloor Street West and Spadina Avenue, called Storyboot School. Through the classes, which are taught in partnership with Manitobah Mukluks, participants learn the art of making mukluks and moccasins.
"They take away a skill that they can carry on throughout their lives ... that they can pass on to their children," she said.
Non-Indigenous people invited to learn craft
Mukluks and moccasins have been worn for thousands of years by Indigenous peoples, but the workshop also hopes to attract non-Indigenous, as well as Indigenous, students who want to learn the art.
"There was so much interest and publicity about the school that all sorts of people wanted to participate," said Sheila Knox, with the Bata Shoe Museum.
The latest workshop session ended in March, but Knox said she hopes to offer it in other cities and remote locations across Canada, "so people farther away can have the opportunity to learn these skills."
"We have a very healthy interest in preserving moccasin and mukluks made by Indigenous people, and we take that responsibility very seriously," she said.
"We kind of call it reconciliation stitch by stitch."
Kassidy Morin, who's part of the Chippewas of Nawash, said she took part in the workshop, and the challenge of making her first pair of moccasins, as a way of learning about her own history and remembering family members who died.
"I am beading forget-me-knots, which in my family represent those who passed," she said.
"I've started on a new journey to reconnect with my history and my past and where I come from."
Morin said she hopes to one day pass the skill on to her children — if she can master it herself.
"If nobody passes along the traditions, then we won't have them for the future."
Check out some of the moccasins on display at the museum and being taught in the workshop, which are either of North American or circumpolar Indigenous heritage.
With files from Richard Agecoutay