Casual Country 2020: Labour of love

Moccasins handmade by Denise Gilpin. (RainFeather Dancen Facebook photo)Moccasins handmade by Denise Gilpin. (RainFeather Dancen Facebook photo)
Denise Gilpin (left) and her mom, Julie Gilpin, stand alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2018 during a visit to the Tsilhqot’in territory. (Photo submitted)Denise Gilpin (left) and her mom, Julie Gilpin, stand alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2018 during a visit to the Tsilhqot’in territory. (Photo submitted)

It may be a lot of work but for Denise Gilpin it is worth the time and effort.

Since she and her mother presented Justin Trudeau with a traditionally-made buckskin jacket nearly two years ago, Gilpin has received many requests from throughout the province asking if she could make them such a jacket, too.

“It’s not easy trying to do one thing and do another thing at the same time,” Gilpin said she tells them, noting she does not have many tanned hides to be able to make a jacket.

In early July, Gilpin was busy making six pairs of moccasins for family and friends from her home west of Williams Lake at Tl’etinqox (Anaham). She not only helps harvest the animal but ensures none of its hide goes to waste.

Once removed, Gilpin scrapes the hair off of the hide then soaks it with saltwater before it is wrung out. It will then be stretched on a large wooden frame in which oil — sometimes from eulachon, a small silvery fish — is applied.

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“From there you tan it and you have to keep poking at it with a rock — a rock at the end of a stick — and just keep poking it and it softens the hide,” Gilpin said.

For one hide the process takes about a week. Once tanned, Gilpin said one can use the hide to make just about anything from moccasins, to gloves or jackets to earrings, bracelets and keychains.

As for having learned how to tan hides after which such items can be made, it’s knowledge that has been passed down family generations from grandmother to mother and mother to daughter.

Among the many items Gilpin has created over the years was her first feather box for her son Peyal who took it with him to New Zealand earlier this year as part of a Tsilhqot’in delegation to visit the Maori. Gilpin said of all her creations, the one that means the most to her is the buckskin jacket gifted to Trudeau in 2018.

“It was my first time ever doing a jacket and it was a challenge to have it done within two weeks,” she said, adding she was pleased with how it had turned out.

The jacket for Trudeau was a replica of the iconic buckskin jacket made by Tsilhqot’in women, including her mother, Julie, with help from Katie Stump and Julianna Petal, for Pierre Elliot Trudeau back in 1970.

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Gilpin even used the same paper pattern her mother used to make the original jacket, now preserved at the Canadian Canoe Museum in Ottawa.

Tsilhqot’in chiefs are working with the museum to have the women and the Tsilhqot’in Nation recognized for gifting the jacket which currently is only identified as being Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s jacket.

Gilpin said she hopes one day her children, which include Peyal, Rainfeather and Syles will some day find the spark of interest she herself found in the traditional practice of hide making.

-With files from Angie Mindus/Williams Lake Tribune

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