'A buried story:' Cumberland House U of S students quilt community history

·2 min read

Pierrette Settee wanted to capture her mother's voice before it was too late.

The University of Saskatchewan student from Cumberland House saw her community lose elders to COVID-19 over the past year and wanted to learn from her mother, who is an elder, while there was still time.

"She always wanted to get her stories out there, but she never could until I asked her," she said.

Settee is one of the students in the Cree teacher education program who participated in a quilting project aiming to record the community's history and culture. Twenty-eight students participated, interviewing local elders and knowledge keepers and representing their conversations in artwork, said program coordinator Lily McKay-Carriere.

The stories they recently presented ran the gamut from the founding of Cumberland House as a permanent settlement, to berry-picking and the changing nature of the Saskatchewan River Delta, she said. They ranged from covering one's grandmother's beadwork, to another recounting how an Indian agent threatened to place an elder's family members in residential schools.

"One of the big themes that came out was people sharing with each other, and looking out for each other, as a community," McKay-Carriere said, noting the project allowed students to learn stories that often go untold.

It grounded them in the lives of the people who "shaped who they have become and what they aspire to do," she added.

Their artwork varied so much between mediums like quilt patches, illustrations and beadwork, McKay-Carriere decided to frame the pieces.

For Laura Chaboyer of the Kwegich Historical Society, keeping the artwork in the organization's local museum can be "a treasure" students didn't have before. Their stories fill in gaps of community history that connect students with the lives of their grandparents and great-grandparents, she said.

"They'll be there for years and years, and I'm really happy about that. They need to be told and they need to be heard."

One of the stories that had gone untold was Settee's mother's experience in residential school.

"I was passionate about telling her story," Settee said. "Everyone around me went to residential school but the thought of actually asking kind of ties a knot in your throat and you don't really want to ask. But when I asked her, she remembered her past."

Settee said she believed her mother had attended a day school until she brought it up in her interview. As she learned more, she used brown and white leather to craft a buffalo patch honouring her mother. She also asked her nieces to create artwork and illustrations inspired by the interviews with her mother.

She plans to give the illustrations to her as a booklet.

"There was like a buried story, or something that was hidden in the past, that no one (asked)."

Nick Pearce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix

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