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Moccasin workshop gives platform to Indigenous knowledge

“It’s helping people understand how to do this so they can be the maker,” Agaton Howes said. “I want them to walk away with the ability to replicate this over and over.”
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BANFF — Giving Indigenous voices a platform to share their knowledge, a new series of programs at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies is working to build bridges between communities.

The upcoming workshops are part of a collection of programs at the museum designed to bring together Indigenous communities and the Bow Valley.

Sarah Agaton Howes, was one of two artists that participated in the Native American Artist-in-Residence Program in 2019 with the Minnesota Historical Society, will host a moccasin workshop at the beginning of March. Agaton Howes' work focuses on cultural revitalization and draws on her experiences as an Anishinaabe Ojibwe artist from Fond du Lac Reservation in Minnesota.

The workshop is an opportunity to learn about making moccasins while serving as a platform for Agaton Howes to share her experiences working as an artist-in-residence and her commitment to promoting the skill of moccasin making, said Dawn Saunders Dahl, Indigenous program manager for the Whyte Museum.

“There’s no beading, just making the moccasins with her,” Saunders Dahl said.

The artist will host a separate workshop in Stoney Nakoda because Agaton Howes believed it was important to connect and give back to the local Indigenous community.

“Banff has long been known to be a cultural trading route long before any of us settled there,” Saunders Dahl said. “I think it's important to know that history and that unfortunate displacement that has made people uncomfortable to come back.”

She said she hopes workshops breed better understanding on both sides and people are able to engage and better understand how to work together.

Agaton Howes connected with the Whyte Musem after creating a moccasin book with the Minnesota Historical Society.

She began making cultural art by creating moccasins, beadworks, quilts and regalia for people and was surprised at how quickly her work took off.

“I realized that my community here really needed to know how to be makers,” Agaton Howes said. “I shifted my focus about six years ago to teaching people how to make moccasins.”

 As she fostered the knowledge of moccasin-making in her community, her work grew, leading her to teach throughout the Minnesota region and eventually Canada.

“Us connecting back to our cultural arts is a huge part of cultural revitalization and healing all the parts that we feel like we lost,” Agaton Howes said.

She first began to reconnect with Indigenous cultural teachings as a teenager when her mom tried to teach her beadwork. She said was frustrated at first because it was difficult and time-consuming work.

When she was in her early 20s, Agaton Howes said she wanted to dance in powwows and realized she would have to learn to sew and bead, so community members took her under their wing and she began to learn these important cultural arts.

“They were great about teaching me everything I ever asked about,” Agaton Howes said with a chuckle.

Agaton Howes said she feels fortunate because the people who taught her were always willing to help her learn– and she wants to pay that gift forward to others.

Agaton Howes has now been making moccasins, regalia and beading for more than 20 years and wants to pass that knowledge forward.

“I became connected to something so much bigger,” Agaton Howes said.

There is magic involved with the construction of moccasins, she said, because she is able to help foster connection to cultural knowledge that is a pivotal part of her heritage.

At the workshop, creators will focus on moccasin construction and her goal is to have students understand the materials, patterns and steps of production so they can create the craft on their own.

“It’s helping people understand how to do this so they can be the maker,” Agaton Howes said. “I want them to walk away with the ability to replicate this over and over.”

Speaking as an Ashinabe woman, Agaton Howes hopes to see her community embrace the loss that they feel because it is part of their cultural experience and can aid in fueling the push for cultural reclamation.

“What we can do with that is decide that we are going to seek out something different,” Agaton Howes said. “I deserve to seek out and art of my grandmothers— the thing that I can inherit is their cultural art.”

Agaton Howes and her apprentice Chally Topping will be hosting the moccasin-making workshop at the Whyte Museum on Saturday, March 7 from noon to 5 p.m. The event is sold out and no waitlist is available.



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Chelsea Kemp

About the Author: Chelsea Kemp

Chelsea Kemp joined the Rocky Mountain Outlook in 2019 as a reporter and photojournalist. She writes provincial politics, health care, arts and entertainment and Indigenous stories. She also contributes photo stand-ups, multi-pics and essays.
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