When Denise Gilpin and her 81-year-old mother Julia Gilpin presented Justin Trudeau with a traditionally-made buckskin jacket Friday at Xeni Gwet’in, the gesture was much more than just a gift.
The jacket — a replica of the original buckskin given to Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau on his visit to the Cariboo in 1970 — is a symbol of two Nations and two cultures woven together over the span of almost fifty years.
“It was pretty cool to see,” said Peyal Laceese, a cultural ambassador with the Tsilhqot’in National Government of watching Justin Trudeau receive his new jacket.
“He [Trudeau] was very excited — he couldn’t believe how well it fit.”
Well beyond his 21 years, Peyal, son of Chief Francis Laceese and traditional seamstress Denise Gilpin, performed a purification ceremony with the chiefs and Trudeau using cedar bows to brush away grief prior to the leaders’ formal speeches to exonerate the hanged war chiefs.
Peyal was also responsible for the idea of recreating Trudeau’s iconic buckskin jacket, which was made by his grandmother, Julia Gilpin.
Julia was in her teens living at Tl’etinqox [Anaham] in the 1950s when she made the buckskin jacket, harvesting the animal and scraping and tanning the hide herself to make it.
Denise said her mother made the jacket with help from Katie Stump and Julianna Petal.
Pierre Elliot Trudeau visited the Cariboo in August, 1970, which was when the Tsilhqot’in Nation gifted him the now iconic jacket.
Just a few weeks before Justin Trudeau’s visit Friday, Nov. 2, 2018 to exonerate the war chiefs, Peyal determined Justin Trudeau should also receive a buckskin jacket and, after asking the chiefs, the family set to work.
Not having enough hide on hand themselves, Peyal asked Christine Isnardy of Tl’esqox [Toosey] who worked “from sunup to sundown” for a week to get enough tanned in time.
Once tanned, Peyal’s mom Denise Gilpin got to work making the jacket using the same paper pattern her mom used for Pierre’s jacket but adjusting the size to make it bigger for Justin.
She also used the same sewing machines her mom used to make the original jacket, and worked with sinew rather than thread.
“She was very stern on having it the exact same way my Grannie had done it,” he said, noting he and his father also harvested a buck to make antler buttons that were on the original jacket.
Denise used Peyal, who is the same height as the prime minister, to measure the front and back pieces, but no one ever tried on the jacket except the seamstress and Trudeau.
“They have the person in mind when they are making it and pray for them in a good way as they make it,” Peyal said. “She wore it that day before she gave it to him, which is custom.”
When it was time for the jacket presentation, Trudeau thanked Julia for the original jacket and accepted the new jacket from Denise.
Smiling, Trudeau stretched out his arms and said it fit “perfectly.”
Peyal said his grandmother, whose first language is Tsilhqot’in, smiled and told him “we made this one for you.”
The original buckskin jacket made by Julia is preserved at the Canadian Canoe Museum in Ottawa.
The chiefs are working with the museum to have Julia and the Tsilhqot’in Nation recognized for gifting the jacket which currently is only identified as being Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s jacket.