Finding a Gem

It can take approximately six days to hand-make a traditional pair of beaded moosehide moccasins. That’s why they cost about $250.But when you splurge on a pair your feet will be toasty warm and you’ll be walking around in artwork. During the Sourdough Rendezvous weekend, the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre is hosting a craft fair with approximately 25 to 30 artisans.

Liz Smith, Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre administration assistant, organized the sale. And she knows what it’s like to fall in love with moccasins. She bought hers at the centre’s Christmas craft fair.

“They had a nice eagle design on them that was well-beaded and the inside was right comfy,” Smith says. “And they were from Annie Smith — she’ll be back at this upcoming craft fair. She’s a well-respected elder from the village (McIntyre Subdivision).”

Smith was ready for the hefty price tag because she knows how much work goes into them.

“My auntie said it takes about five or six days — if she’s on it 24-7,” Smith says. “And this is people who have been making slippers for years and beyond years.”

When you buy moccasins or any other crafts from the artisans you’ll be helping to keep First Nations culture alive.

“The people will still keep on making these things because people will buy it, so there’s a big impact,” Smith says. “It shows superb support. It makes the crafters feel respected.”

Artisans will be coming from several communities including Haines Junction, Marsh Lake, Pelly Crossing and Watson Lake. They’ll be bringing mittens, mukluks, soap and lotions, knitted hats and many more useful things, as well as fine art pieces such as paintings and carvings. Prices range from $10 for a beaded moosehide ponytail holder in the shape of a flower to $1000 for a framed, carved mask.

Dennis Shorty will be bringing his carvings. Shorty, a member of the Kaska Dena First Nation, will be making the five-hour trip in from Ross River. He carves sculptures from caribou, moose and deer antlers as well as sheep and muskox horns. He also makes jewelry made from copper and antler.

“I carve anything that comes to the heart and mind,” Shorty says. “If I doesn’t, I just leave the antler alone. It has to speak. With the copper, I have to feel it – in my mind’s eye.”

Shorty learned to carve as a child from watching his grandfather and father. Later in life he threw himself into his art as a way to stay sane and stay alive.

“It’s been part of my healing journey; it helps keep me grounded to Mother Earth,” Shorty says. “I’m one of the survivors of a residential school. So that’s what has kept me going all these years. And music, too.”

Shorty attended a residential school in Lower Post, B.C. for seven years between the ages of five and 12. He is now 54 years old.

“In the last 10 years I finally started living,” he says. “Before that, everything was just a nightmare. I couldn’t tell if I was coming or going. I couldn’t tell if things were real or not real. It’s hard to explain. I hate to say it, but you have to go through it to understand.”

With his wife Jennifer Froehling managing the marketing aspect of his business, his work has been garnering attention locally, nationally and internationally.

This year he will be having his second show in Germany and he has been invited to the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa as part of the Northern Scene showcase. His art may turn out to be a shrewd investment.

The Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre Craft Fair takes place on Feb. 22 and 23 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information call Liz Smith at 867-456-5322.

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