After 62 years, this Innu woman was finally able to see her mother's artwork

·2 min read
Germaine Benuen holding her mother’s moccasins for the first time inside the collection storage of the Canadian Museum of History, Ottowa. (Germaine Benuen/Facebook - image credit)
Germaine Benuen holding her mother’s moccasins for the first time inside the collection storage of the Canadian Museum of History, Ottowa. (Germaine Benuen/Facebook - image credit)
Germaine Benuen/Facebook
Germaine Benuen/Facebook

Family heirlooms are often tucked away in someone's basement. For Germaine Benuen, they were stored in the Canadian Museum of History, near Ottawa.

Benuen, who lives in the Innu community of Sheshatshiu in central Labrador, was returning from a three-week cross-country road trip to British Columbia in September when she followed up on a tip that hand-beaded moccasins that her late mother made 62 years ago were on display at the Canadian Museum of History, which is in Gatineau, Que.

"When we were driving by, I said we have to stop at the museum to see what we can find," Benuen told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning.

While she could not find anything on display, emails and phone calls with staff helped her quickly track down the moccasins in the museum's collection storage.

Germaine Benuen/Facebook
Germaine Benuen/Facebook

"It felt peaceful," she said. "It was almost like … my mother was there for a second."

Louisa Benuen, who died in 2000, was originally from the former Innu community of Davis Inlet off Labrador's northern coast. According to the museum, she was 28 when she is thought to have made the moccasins in 1959, shortly before she moved to North West River.

Such moccasins are traditionally made with caribou skin and are hand-stitched.

Carrying on the tradition

Benueun said making the moccasins was a way for her mother to pass on an Indigenous tradition to her children.

"She has always been a traditional person. She did not have a modern school education. She lived on the land, and she raised us on the land," said Benuen.

"She always made sure that we were able and capable of providing our children in regards to Indigenous knowledge."

When she finally got to hold the moccasins her mother made so long ago, she felt connected to her on a deeper level.

"It felt peaceful... It was almost like … my mother was there for a second" - Germaine Benuen

"I was honoured, and it brought tears to my eyes."

While her mother may have died, Louisa Benuen still lives on through such traditions, her daughter said.

A step toward reconciliation

She has since returned from her road trip back, Benuen hopes to carry on Indigenous traditions that had been passed down.

She said that bringing cultural artifacts under Indigenous supervision is an important step toward reconciliation.

"Hopefully those moccasins will be brought back home eventually as Innu Nation is working on the Sheshatshiu cultural centre within the community, so my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be able to see it."

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