Caribou Boots & Banana Bread

My daughter Emily and I are sitting in the home of Elizabeth (Liz) Kaye, enjoying the comfortable ambiance and the warmth only a large wood stove can deliver.

Liz comes out of a back room with a large bag of caribou skins and places them on a stool beside a small table that is covered in beads, moccasins and patterns.

“I’m making caribou skin boots for the gathering” she says.

The gathering Liz is referring to is the Gwich’in Gathering this summer in Old Crow, and there’s a lot of work to do. Liz spent roughly $2,400 on supplies to make caribou skin boots to sell.

It takes roughly four days per pair and she admits she has her work cut out for her, as she only recently decided to try her hand at making them. She is even attempting to create a caribou skin moccasin/boot hybrid with a moccasin shoe attached to a caribou skin neck.

I hear the shoe gods screaming, “No Way!!” The premise sounds intriguing and I hope she succeeds.

Liz came from the NWT but moved to Old Crow in 1972. Since moving here she has had three children with her husband, Joseph, and has an adopted son who currently lives in Whitehorse.

Since moving to Old Crow more than four decades ago she has kept a busy and active lifestyle in the community, having worked in the school as a teacher in traditional native languages, forming a daycare, being the Old Crow liaison to CBC News North Igalaaq and developing her survival skills.

Even today, while Liz is home waiting for her husband to come back from his camp, she keeps as busy as possible.

“It’s never a dull moment for me. People wonder what do you do at home. This morning I made banana bread and baked bread and worked on my moccasins,” she says.

It’s apparent her moccasin making skills are in high demand, looking at the many pairs, all with different designs and colours. It’s an artistic skill for Liz as she’s been creating moccasins from over 100 patterns handed down to her by her grandmother.

“Even when I was going to residential school, I was so passionate about beads and embroidery, I did odd jobs so I could buy materials and beads,” she remembers.

Liz gives credit to her parents and the elders she grew up with.

“I’m really fortunate I grew up in that time, because I had the best educators. My parents were self-taught and I gained by observing, gained by hands on with lots of practice.”

Liz has continued her family’s traditions by teaching her own daughter the basics, and takes pride that her daughter has taken her beading and made it her own.

As an elder now herself, Liz understands the importance of sharing the knowledge she’s gained.

“Now that I’m an elder I don’t want to fail passing on what I observe” said Liz.

She goes on to say, “I learn from people and like to communicate.”

These are great tools to have when knowledge is passed on from one generation to another. Liz feels she needs to bestow the patterns that were given to her by her grandmother to others, including patterns for moccasins, mittens and slippers.

Liz has thought about making a book about her skills and experience, but not until she feels the knowledge is passed on the right way.

Until then she has her hands full with moccasins, caribou skin boots and banana bread – and, if all goes well, a future daycare for Old Crow again.

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