For Samantha Denise St. Pierre, it’s crucial to share her traditional knowledge so that it doesn't get lost throughout generations.
St. Pierre, 45, is a member of Atikameksheng Anishnawbe First Nation. She was born in Timmins and raised in numerous foster homes all over the province.
She calls Timmins her home. The furthest she's lived away was in B.C. where she stayed for 18 months.
"I had to come home. This is the most welcoming place I've ever been in my life," she says.
Beading has been her main job until she started running a rooming house located on Balsam Street South. She plans to name the building "Silver Living" after her Indigenous name which means Lady of Star.
The house been open since September and has 18 rooms.
St. Pierre is the only staff. She does a lot of traditional teaching, smudging and brings various agencies like Living Space and The Jubilee Centre to provide help and counselling to the tenants.
“They don't have to go to the organizations to get it. Some people coming in from the streets or rehabs don’t want to go out when they first start here. They want to do well and they’re scared to go out and start using again," she says.
If the tenants have been sober and clean for a while and want to live in an apartment, they can be moved into other places in Timmins, St. Pierre says.
“It’s been good so far. We’ve had a few hiccups but that’s like any other place. The whole neighbourhood is amazed how this building has changed and how it’s been cleaned up, I think I’m doing my job good,” she says.
St. Pierre also beads and makes hand drums, rattles, ribbon skirts and jewelry. She does traditional teachings with the Timmins drum group, which she joined about three years ago.
She first started beading as a seven-year-old girl. Her grandmother taught her some skills and the meaning behind the colours. After starting with basic bracelets, St. Pierre can now make big elaborate items using six different sizes of beads.
Her grandfathers were medicine men in the reserve — healers, as St. Pierre explains — harvesting medicines in the bush, teaching the younger generation what to harvest and how. Now, St. Pierre passes down the knowledge to her nine grandchildren and her drum group members.
The teachings she shares include the proper ways to dye and make hand drums and rattles, the healing properties of dandelions, the stories about webbing on the drums and now, she’s teaching members how to bead.
Two months ago, she started dyeing drums using natural ingredients like beet or onions. Since then, her teaching has been picked up by many area friendship centres, she says.
Whenever she teaches a class, it starts with smudging. It helps to relax and focus on the work, St. Pierre says.
“I’ve never turned anybody away who wants to learn,” she says. Some people would come up to her on the streets thanking her for teaching them and providing an outlet to stay busy, away from drugs or alcohol. “I love teaching people new things. Especially people who don’t think they’ll be able to do it.”
She’s also been sharing the meaning behind some of the traditional dances and jewelry on the regalia. St. Pierre says she wants to bring some of the old traditions back and to keep them going.
“I lost my language because I was put up for adoption. I lost a lot of my teachings but I have a book that was handed down to me from my grandfather so I can go back and relearn everything, all these teaching,” she says. “So I’m teaching it again to people that want to learn.”
Whether it's through beading or just sitting down to listen to someone, St. Pierre tries to help people.
"If I can make one person's day by making them smile or laugh, that's my day. That's all I go for," she says.
She's also volunteered with the Timmins bingo hall and the South Porcupine Food Bank, where she sat on the board of directors for two years.
"I'm always volunteering whenever they need me," she says.
Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com