A community workshop that took place over several months culminated on Aboriginal Day, June 21 with participants presenting star blankets they had created.
During a presentation held in a classroom at Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake campus, Yunesit’in ?Esgul School principal JoAnne Moiese, also a councillor with the Williams Lake Indian Band, said star blankets are hugely significant to First Nations people.
“When you go up for the mountain fast, one of the requirements is that you need to have a star blanket.” Moiese said.
Quilting teacher Louise Harry, originally from Dog Creek, taught the workshop, beginning in October.
Twenty people there were at the beginning, and in the end 10 women completed quilts.
The women would eat and pray as they gathered in a room at the school, Moise recalled.
“Making the star blankets brought the school into the community and the community into the school. We’re going to do it again, it really made us closer as people.”
Going around the room, each quilter shared the story of her quilt and as it’s tradition to give the first blanket away, said who their quilt was being given to.
The school’s Grade 2-4 teacher Patricia Pruim made two. The first one was for her daughter, the other for her son.
“I went through the process and sometimes wondered if it was going to work. My journey in making these blankets was having the strength every day to keep at it and being patient. I think the hardest part was putting the star pieces together,” Prium said.
Yunesit’in elder Sarah Myers volunteers as a grandmother in the school and does not speak English.
Translating for Myers, Tsilhqot’in language teacher Filly Brigham said Myers made the biggest blanket in the group because it is a wedding blanket for her daughter.
“She is hoping to make another one,” Brigham added, saying Myers is hopeful that Harry can lead another workshop in the community.
Brigham created a quilt for her sister Sandra, using lots of blue — her favourite colour.
“I almost gave up and I don’t know what kept me going. I made mistakes, but Louise helped me out,” she said.
Matilda Quilt created a blanket for her grandson who travels with her on the powwow trail every weekend.
“We haven’t done a giveaway for him so I thought I’d make this to give to him.”
Quilt has other grandchildren and more on the way and said she’ll be busy making lots of star blankets in the future.
Judy Clement had never sewn on a sewing machine in her life before embarking on the quilt project.
Her blanket was for her daughter Caitlin.
Caitlin was sitting beside her mom, wrapped in the blanket, jokingly reluctant to give it up for her mom to show the group.
“When I heard that you have to give your first blanket away, I knew right away that I was going to give it to Caitlin. She hadn’t seen it until now,” Judy said, adding she chose pinks and purples because those are her favourite colours and because she’s passionate.
The latter description garnered giggles from around the room.
The school’s cook, Charlene Brigham, wasn’t present in the classroom due to another commitment; however, her blanket was displayed on a table, showing a spray of purples, blues and pinks.
Harry is a Kindergarten/Grade 1 teacher at YunKsit’in, and when it was her turn to talk about teaching the quilting course, she likened it to teaching school.
“For me the biggest thing is bringing parents from the community into the school. The women all put themselves in the position of a child — they hadn’t sewn, some didn’t have machines and material. We had to gather all those things together.”
It gave the community members an experience of what a child goes through when they first go to school, she added. Choosing colours, getting along, and working together.
“A big thing for me was seeing that like children, we adults need a lot of hands-on approach.”
Indigenous teachings also emerged: sharing, helping, honour, respect and giving, Harry said. Anticipating that giving would be hard for the women because so much work goes into making a blanket, Harry reminded them they would have to part with their gifts.
“I think it changes things though because you have to give it away and you have to make sure that it was just right.”
Harry has made about 40 blankets and given away at least 35.
Holding up one of the blankets she’d almost finished, she explained it’s being made for a lady with cancer.
“That’s what the purples are for; they are for intense healing.”
Prayers go into the blankets as well, Harry said.
“We do a lot of talking, but there’s a lot of prayer. It also allows people the freedom of laughter and talking away from the classroom.”