Local artisan sharing expertise during Niska Noel

Jean Wesley has been surrounded by crafts and handiwork her whole life.

While her sisters and daughters make earrings, and do beadwork and other traditional work, she has become an artisan in making dreamcatchers.

“There’s always something to see and learn,” she says. “Somebody’s always making something.”

She is sharing that knowledge and skill in a workshop through Niska Artisans, a program that runs artisan markets and purchases crafts from local Indigenous creators.

“I heard they bought crafts, so I did that and that’s how to got into it,” says Wesley.

The importance of the dreamcatcher and its place in Indigenous cultures is an important part of learning to make them, says Wesley.

“The Plains Cree believe it catches good and bad dreams, the good dreams go through the centre to get to the person sleeping, and the bad dreams are trapped and they disappear in the light of dawn,” explains Wesley. “If you want to hang a dreamcatcher, make sure it’s in the southwest for good dreams.

"Usually, when I do my dreamcatcher, I put the four colours of the medicine wheel in there."

The four colours represent the four seasons and the sacred path of humanity and the sun.

Each colour has a significance with red representing fire and blood, black being a mystery power, yellow representing sunshine and joy, and white representing simplicity, according to Wesley.

Her own learning journey started with curiosity.

She saw someone making dreamcatchers and asked about them.

“She just handed me the hoop and told me to make one myself,” says Wesley.

Wesley, who is from Moose River, and has been in Timmins for many years, says the sharing between those making different items, and teaching anyone who is willing to learn, has been a part of her process for as long as she can remember.

“While their parents were out fishing, they’d send the kids to my place and I taught them how to make dreamcatchers,” she says. ”Some of them are married now, some have kids now.”

Her home would be filled with those who want to know about her craft.

“My sister said, ‘Come over and show me how to make a dreamcatcher,’ so I did,” recalls Wesley. “And then she calls her friends and tells them, and they all came over. I like it though."

Between workshops and markets, Wesley is surrounded by family, including her great-granddaughter, and she says that keeping the Cree language up within her family is important.

“I always tell my kids to talk to their kids in Cree, even my little great granddaughter, I talk to her in Cree,” she says.

She is willing to teach anyone who asks and is willing to learn the craft and the cultural connections behind the work.

“That’s just how I am, when they ask me to do workshops, I’ll do it.”

Registration for Jean Wesley’s Nov. 27 workshop is open through the Timmins museum, and there is no charge to participate.

It's being held during Niska Noël, an annual craft show showcasing local Indigenous artisans. It runs at the museum on Saturday, Nov. 26 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 27 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Amanda Rabski-McColl, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com