Boozhoo niichiwag minawaa readers, fellow quilt enthusiasts, and all else who may enjoy reading my story. Ginew’ikwe indigo miniwaa Niizhogwanebik indigo. Mukwa nindodem. Manitou Bawitigoon indonji. Tulita Dene Anishinaabekwe nindow. Niminwendaan oma aki. These few Anishinaabe-Ojibway words, are a greeting. My Anishinaabe names have been shared, my clan and where I am from.
I carry two Anishinaabe names that help me understand my purpose. My clan is bear, which tells me lots as well. My home is Rainy River First Nations. I married into the community, and after my husband of 30 years passed, I find, this really is my home. We are located on the Ontario-Minnesota border, 40 km from the US border, where Yonge Street/Hwy 11 ends. Did you know Yonge Street is 2000 km long, and runs through my reserve? I am a mix of Anishinaabe, Dene, Irish, and Welsh bloodlines. Tulita, NWT, on the MacKenzie River, is my Dene homeland. I am most happy to share a bit of my quilting journey with you.
In my culture, protocol dictates that we state these things so others may find a connection between the new person and self. Relationships are so very important. We must nurture our relationships so that we may understand each other. Our goal is to walk through life in balance and harmony. This has always been a challenge with humans. We like to be understood more than understand. We are funny that way, egotistical for the most part. Anyway, I come to you via a dear friend Zabby, who is cousin to Karen Brown of Just Get It Done (justgetitdonequilts.com). Karen interviewed me on her monthly show; following this I got a hook up with the President of CQA/ACC, and here I am. We are all connected. Quilters rank high on my list of great people.
“Quilting to me is Identity, Community, Sharing and Love”: that is the name of the slide presentation I sent to Karen when preparing for the interview. I really had to think about what quilting meant to me. On my computer, I went to my photos and just put quilting and sewing related pictures into an album, and let it do its thing. When I watched the slide show, I was amazed, and I remembered the moments of each picture. I heard the sounds of joy, anguish, laughter, success, triumph, and relief connected with each picture. Memories flooded through me and I am grateful for an opportunity to share. You should do this too; it is a great reminder to self and others of what you have accomplished. It is very validating, I found.
Identity is where I begin. Who am I and what can I bring to the table? This is really important in this time of Truth and Reconciliation, Every Child Matters, climate change, troop withdrawals, and much more. As a mixed blood Dene Anishinaabekwe, and with my first name being Niizhogwanebiik or Two Feathers, I enjoy looking within myself, my ancestral bloodlines, my spirit, to look for ways to understand many ways of thinking, knowing, and being the best person I can be. As a teacher of 40 years, I enjoy helping others look within to understand their purpose, and to study and seek answers to their many questions. We all need to do our best. Collectively, we need to do better.
Seeking who I am, and trying all kinds of things, I found sewing satisfied me at an early age. Making things for myself, as my mother and grandmother have done, was rewarding when I had the time. I learned basic skills in grades seven and eight, back in the 60s, then developed them further during my 40s. Now, I feel I am a great basic sewer; it only took a lifetime. It is amazing how complex we can get with basic skills. I love that about quilting.
For the most part, we just need to cut and sew a straight line, and unsew now and again without wrecking the fabric. Simple. However, quilting is also decision making, problem solving, imagining, sorting, cleaning, organizing, correcting, and a bit of mechanics. Oh yes, and shopping or trading, and laughter and tears, and so much more. Quilting of course is learning, which leads to engaging and teaching others most times. So, I love to sew and quilt!
Within my Anishinaabe family and traditional lodge, we do a lot of gifting. Every ceremony requires a gift to the Creator, giving thanks and respecting life. We can run to the store to buy something, and often we do. We can also make our gifts, blankets, quilts, and invest our prayers, good energy, and thoughts into the work we will give away. Gifting quilts for new-born babies, graduations, marriages, and deaths is a normal practice. My friend Donna Spence of Peguis First Nations, MB, reminds me that before each quilt is made, she offers asemaa (tobacco) and a prayer. The prayer asks for a clear mind and body to imagine what is needed; the colours, design, the recipient, their name, clan, and colours, so that the end product meets their need. Prayer is critical in my world. Donna went on to say she smudges everything as well as she starts her project. Smudge removes negative energy from the space. Then she begins. I can relate. We do things similarly.
Last summer, COVID-19 was changing our world. Our First Nation Health Director, Juanita, was the voice of our COVID response. She was doing the contact tracing, fielding calls, supporting our community. Not an easy task, as most colleagues and her support staff were working from home. My brother, sisters, and daughter really appreciated her work and what she was doing for all of us. We wanted to gift her. Of course, we decided to make her a quilt. Lots of calls: what is her Anishinaabe name, her clan, her colours? Then we imagined the design, a radiant star quilt of course! Within a few days, we had the top made with her clan, caribou, appliquéd on the front with her name, and so much more written into the corners of her quilt. We sandwiched the blanket, then hand tied the quilt, just as our grandmothers had done. We laughed and shared stories and offered good thoughts for our friend and community members during our COVID times. We then brought the finished quilt to present it to her at her mother’s place. Her reaction was priceless! She told me that this act of kindness connected her with her name and clan in a manner not felt before. Building identity and community through quilting, how great is that! Just sharing a bit of love and kindness, that’s what we quilters do.
Over the decades, I have met so many quilters and been part of a variety of quilting groups. Everyone has shared so freely. Tips, ideas, new projects, ways to swap squares or even win enough squares to make yet another topper! I reflect back and am grateful for the many connections I have made. Preparing for retirement brought the ability to travel south. We chose our resort with two criteria: quilting and golf. Miigwech to my late friend, Marion, who opened the door to her community over the past decade. I love my winter group at Pueblo El Mirage, Material Girls. I made it just before COVID struck. Over the past year we post on our Facebook page and I look forward to meeting in person again. Changes are good, and my circle has grown through Zoom and virtual connections.
We need to do more of what makes our spirit sparkle. My teachings tell me we are Spirit walking through this physical realm. Our bodies allow us to do this. Our minds want to explore everything we can, and our hearts helps us connect with others. If we recognize what makes us happy, and find time to do whatever that may be, we can truly explore. Personally, I love to help. This week, two young girls needed ceremonial ribbon skirts for our pow wow this weekend. So, we picked out material from our stash, chose the colours of ribbons, and then I made them each a skirt with pockets. They were so happy to receive their gift of ribbon skirts, were able to do ceremony work, and were smiling because of this small act of love, sharing, and connecting. Sewing, quilting, gifting, it is all so good.
Have you met the Quilting Goddess? She’s the one who ensures your bobbin makes it to the end of that row, leaving inches to spare. She’s the one who helps you find that last piece of matching fabric, or holds your hand when you just want to give up. She is you: embrace the love of quilting. Oh yeah, my Saturday morning delight,
5 am, PBS, the Love of Quilting. Yup, Sara and Angela are my crew! They make me sparkle as well.
My late husband addressed a graduation class one time. He told them, Boshkegiin waa izichigeyan. It is up to you what you do. Minochigen bimaadiziwin. Do good things with life.
My wish for you is that you enjoy each day, resolve your issues as you face them, best you can. Ask for help, give a helping hand when you can. And, embrace your inner quilting self.
Miigwech bizindaaweyeg. Thank you for listening.