Amy Willier, Cree entrepreneur and artist, dies at 37

·3 min read
Amy Willier, co-owner of Inglewood shop and gallery Moonstone Creation, has died. (Livia Manywounds/CBC - image credit)
Amy Willier, co-owner of Inglewood shop and gallery Moonstone Creation, has died. (Livia Manywounds/CBC - image credit)

Amy Willier, a Cree artisan and entrepreneur who championed her culture and community through her Calgary gallery, has died.

The 37-year-old ran Moonstone Creation in Inglewood alongside her mother, Yvonne Jobin, for more than a decade.

Melrene Saloy-Eaglespeaker, a close friend of Willier's, said anyone who walked into the pale pink building, marked with a medicine wheel sign at the corner of 10th Avenue and 12th Street S.E., would be met with a huge smile and an offer of a mug of tea, or a chance to sit and chat.

"They're internationally known, award-winning … they're one of those stops you make when you come to Calgary," Saloy-Eaglespeaker said. "She was so knowledgeable on every item, every artist, where it came from. She just took so much pride in the store, of being able to represent over 75 local Indigenous artists and to be able to talk about each one so passionately."

Submitted by Melrene Saloy-EagleSpeaker
Submitted by Melrene Saloy-EagleSpeaker

Friends say Willier's death was sudden, and the cause wasn't immediately known. On Sunday morning, bouquets of flowers and candles were placed in front of the shop's blue door in her memory.

"She just touched so many people in our community, whether she was teaching classes, she was buying from artists, she was showcasing, she was speaking. She just did so many things and wore so many hats. She was well-respected," Saloy-Eaglespeaker said.

"She was very kind and open and caring and probably the best person I'll ever know."

Bryan Labby/CBC
Bryan Labby/CBC

Willier was born on Sucker Creek reserve in northern Alberta, and her family moved to Calgary when she was a young child.

Her mother founded Moonstone Creation in 2009, and Saloy-Eaglespeaker said Willier, who has a background in marketing, saw the store as an opportunity to learn from Jobin while spending more time with her young son Colton.

Nicole Robertson, another friend of Willier's, said the bond between the two women was strong, and Willier was on her way to assuming the role of Cree matriarch like her mother before her. She said everyone who walked into Moonstone felt welcome — and that was due to Willier and Jobin's warm spirits.

"Amy was a teacher of our creative ways and looking at ways to be a bridge between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people," Robertson said.

"She leaves behind a legacy of hope, of being a better human citizen, of our Indigenous teachings as a way of learning respect not only for each other, but for Mother Earth."

Willier passed on knowledge wherever she could, teaching traditional crafts like how to intricately bead a tanned moose hide, tuft with caribou hair or craft drums. She had been scheduled to teach a virtual class on how to bead peyote-style on a feather with the University of Calgary on Wednesday.

Submitted by Nicole Robertson
Submitted by Nicole Robertson

Robertson remembers seeing Willier speak after she received an award from the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada in 2017.

"[Her speech] was so beautiful and just so commanding of such a beautiful spirit, a woman, leader … she gave a lot to our community and I will forever be grateful for the time that she had with us," she said.

John Fischer, the executive Indigenization advisor with Mount Royal University, Willier's alma mater, said the school has a longstanding connection with Willier. It even contracted her business to provide pouches beaded with the school's logo for some graduating Indigenous students.

"We are shocked and deeply saddened by the sudden death of Amy Willier and have sent our prayers to Yvonne Jobin, her mother, and son Colton," he said in an emailed statement.

Willier is survived by her mother, 13-year-old son Colton, and seven-year-old adopted nephew A.J.