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© 2019 Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre

 

Guest Curated by Sage Petahtegoose

January 31 to June 2, 2018

"I think it is important to get people to learn from the people who make moccasins,

from the people who wear moccasins,

and from the people moccasins come from."

Sage Petahtegoose, Guest Curator

About the Exhibit

Moccasins Re-vamped: Walking Forward Together was created in partnership between the Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre and the Aboriginal Resource Centre. The exhibit was framed through the words of Guest Curator, Sage Petahtegoose and combined contemporary examples of moccasins made by students and staff at Humber with images of historic moccasins from communities around the Great Lakes Region that had been provided by the Bata Shoe Museum.

Exhibit Launch

Thanks to our Partners

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Interview with Sage Petahtegoose, Guest Curator

Before the exhibit launched on January 31, 2018, we held an interview with Sage Petahtegoose, the Guest Curator of Moccasins Re-Vamped. The following audio recordings present Sage's responses to our questions. The text below was transcribed by Nadine Finlay, the complete transcript of this interview can be found here. 

Ojibwe Introduction

Boozhoo
Mushkoday Bizhikiwushk Kwe indizhinikawz
Omashkoonhs indodaym
Atikameksheng indonjibah
Toronto indindah
Ojibwe Podewadmi Oneida Kwe indow.

I just introduced myself in Ojibwe. 
My spirit name is Buffalo Sage Woman and I am of the Elk clan. So I’m part of the Hoof clan and I’m also of the Ojibwe Podewadmi and Oneida Nations. 
So, I was raised primarily Ojibwe and that was the language that I was speaking. 

 

How long have you been making moccasins? 

I’ve been making moccasins since I was 16, I was learning from my mother. 

 

I was really interested in what she was doing but also very frustrated because it’s not really easy to learn – especially since your mother wants you to learn really well, or in a good way. 

 

My mother didn’t want me to make anything half-heartedly, she wanted to make sure that I was doing it correctly. And so, obviously, that put a lot of stress on what I was doing and I wanted to make sure I was doing it as perfectly as I could. And obviously when you’re learning to do something, that’s not always the case, it doesn’t come out exactly like you want it. 

 

And so, it’s a lot of practice and redoing, undoing, and trying new tactics, new techniques, and just honing your skill. 

What made you want to learn to make moccasins?

I wanted to learn because I think I was so interested in making things for myself – and that sounds really selfish but it’s actually a huge skill that not a lot of people get to learn: is how to make things that you can wear yourself. 

Why is it important that we make things as opposed to just go and buy them? And that’s a huge self-reflection piece. I think learning to make something for yourself is really important to Indigenous People across Turtle Island because so much of how our way of life has been taken away. 

And so being able to make something – I was really proud of myself. Even though it didn’t look perfect, it was – it was like an act of self-love. 

“Oh, you made that for yourself?” or “You made that for someone else?” I think it’s even bigger to gain that skill. And then you start to be able to be known as someone who can make things. And then being able to make things for other people is such a huge learning leap, I guess you could say. 
 

Do you remember the first pair of moccasins you made? 

I do, I still have them. 

I originally thought I was making them for someone else. And then it just ended up so that they were back in my hands – or on my feet! 

And I was like: “Oh they don’t fit quite like I want them to” or “they don’t sit on my foot quite like I like them.” But how they’ve come to age – 

And so, I still own them today and they look really awesome, I’m really proud of them. I’m like: “I can’t believe I made that when I was that young!”
 

How long does it take to make a moccasin?

I’d say it takes about 20 to 40 hours to make a pair of moccasins. I mean if I sat and actually worked with my Mom – or like, you know, when you’re really on the grind – like “Oh I just want to make something” you could do it in less. But I think for the quality –

For instance, if you wanted a fully beaded pair of moccasins it could take way longer. Depending on how intricate, what you’re beading, or what you’re working with – 

 

The beadwork takes the longest and I think, there’s no way around it. If you plan on beading then you plan on sitting for a long time. So you put on a good show and you sit down and you bunker in. 
 

What are the parts of a moccasin?

So, when you’re looking at a pair of moccasins – 

You have your vamp – and so that’s where all the beadwork goes, or your, kind of, decoration. It doesn’t have to be beads, it could be bells, it could be quillwork. 

And then you have the sole of the moccasin. And so that’s the leather part and that kind of wraps around – it starts kinds of at the edge of the toes and then it wraps down and around all the way to the bottom of the foot. And so that could be moose hide, that could be deer, it could be elk, caribou – 

I’ve even made a pair out of – I think it was sheepskin which is pretty soft and it’s easier to work with. 

And then you have the welt. So, the welt goes in between the sole and the vamp and what it does is it helps to reinforce the moccasin and keep the integrity of the seam and it helps keep it nice and flat against the puckers of a moccasin. 

And then you have the cuff. So, the cuff – and that’s around the mouth of the foot – it could be made out of just wrapping any animal fur. So, I like to use rabbit, beaver, or basically anything that’s nice and soft. Or, if you don’t want fur you could also just use a regular piece of leather, maybe like a one-inch strip and it could wrap around the edge of the cuff. 
 

What are the steps in making a moccasin? 

Some of my teachers, they have size templates for the foot that they’re making. But in my personal experience, I size the foot right in front of them. I’ll trace their foot pattern and then I’ll make a sole pattern for them.

 

And so, I think that really helps it form to the foot. I think it’s just an extra step of making it personal. Because if you’re buying a pair, you’re hoping it fits or you hope that it will form to your foot. I mean, leather is pretty forgiving for that but it’s always good to be sure. And to have that relationship with the customer or the person you’re making the moccasins for –

 

Make your template. And so, what you do with that template is you start – you can cut out the vamp of the moccasin. So, the vamp is where all the beadwork goes and that’s where more of the customization comes in to play – especially for the pucker toe moccasin.

 

And then so, for the rest of the foot, you would be assembling it. So, once you have your beadwork done you can assemble the leather next to the sole.

 

But what goes in-between it and that helps it keep its shape is the welt. And so that’s just an extra piece of reinforcement. And it helps to, kind of, cover your thread and just basically protect the moccasin.

 

And so, you assemble that part and then you put together the heel. And that kind of wraps around, well, like any shoe, it wraps around the back of the heel.

 

How it also comes into customization, how you finish the mouth of the foot – so where the foot slides in. You could put fur around it –

 

I had these really nice pair of moccasins I made and they had beaver fur around it and beaver fur is so nice and soft. I just want to say Miigwetch to the Amik Spirit, that’s the beaver, ‘cause they’re the softest dang animals ever.

 

Or you could just finish it with a leather lip all the way around.

Some of my teachers, they have size templates for the foot that they’re making. But in my personal experience, I size the foot right in front of them. I’ll trace their foot pattern and then I’ll make a sole pattern for them.

 

And so, I think that really helps it form to the foot. I think it’s just an extra step of making it personal. Because if you’re buying a pair, you’re hoping it fits or you hope that it will form to your foot. I mean, leather is pretty forgiving for that but it’s always good to be sure. And to have that relationship with the customer or the person you’re making the moccasins for –

 

Make your template. And so, what you do with that template is you start – you can cut out the vamp of the moccasin. So, the vamp is where all the beadwork goes and that’s where more of the customization comes in to play – especially for the pucker toe moccasin.

 

And then so, for the rest of the foot, you would be assembling it. So, once you have your beadwork done you can assemble the leather next to the sole.

 

But what goes in-between it and that helps it keep its shape is the welt. And so that’s just an extra piece of reinforcement. And it helps to, kind of, cover your thread and just basically protect the moccasin.

 

And so, you assemble that part and then you put together the heel. And that kind of wraps around, well, like any shoe, it wraps around the back of the heel.

 

How it also comes into customization, how you finish the mouth of the foot – so where the foot slides in. You could put fur around it –

 

I had these really nice pair of moccasins I made and they had beaver fur around it and beaver fur is so nice and soft. I just want to say Miigwetch to the Amik Spirit, that’s the beaver, ‘cause they’re the softest dang animals ever.

 

Or you could just finish it with a leather lip all the way around.

What style of moccasin do you prefer to make?

I prefer to make the pucker toe style moccasin, I think it looks so pretty. It’s also one of the styles of moccasins that my Mom taught me how to make. It really resonates with me because it’s something that also my people made. And so, I’m really wanting to emulate that, kind of, in a cultural identity sense. But also, I get a lot of my florals because of what my Mom showed me how to make. So, it’s also passed down in that kind of lineage sense. 

 

What does a pucker toe moccasin look like?

 

It looks like if you were – if you were to pucker your lips and you get those kinds of lines on the outside, that’s what it’s like when it’s around your toe. So, it’s kind of, like, bunched up.

 

But one of my previous teachers – her name’s Roberta Anderdson, she’s also Cree, and she also makes moccasins and mukluks – and I think she really helps me hone what my puckers look like. So, Roberta was telling me that you have to really work your puckers in. So once you finish stitching them you also have to, kind of, move them around in your hands, almost like you’re kneading them, like kneading dough with your hands and your thumbs.

 

Before you even put in an insole – that makes it comfy – it should sit flat.

 

And so, I was really like: “Oh! I never really thought about it that way!”


And so, she’s Cree, but we have very similar styles. And then I’m like: “That’s it – that’s how I want my puckers to look.” So, I was really thankful for what she taught me.

 

So, there’s another style my Mom taught me: it’s like a contemporary, dancing type of moccasin. I’m not sure if it quite has a name. My Mom learned that kind of style when she was a dancer. She said she was pretty self-taught. She had a lot of teachers, but, also, she’s a good sewer, she’s a great leatherworker and beader. And so, she learned a lot of that probably through trial and error. Yeah, she taught me how to make that.

 

She beads the whole top of the foot so it doesn’t look like a pucker toe moccasin, it looks like – like all beaded at the top and then just the sole is the leather.

 

And I think the reason for that is like it’s easier to replace the leather. When you’re dancing – especially if you’ve ever seen a Pow Wow – then there’s so much movement. Depending on what the grounds are like, what you’re dancing on, it could be grass, it could be sometimes dirt and stuff, it really wears you sole down so taking it off - is like, like it’s a practice use.

When do people get a new pair of moccasins?

So, I think at major life events especially in my culture growing up –

 

When you have a new baby, people gift the Mom or the parents with a pair of moccasins for that baby. And I think that’s a really heartwarming way to show the baby: “Oh, we want to make sure that when you come in, you look good. You’re one of us and this is a pair of moccasins from your people.” It’s a kind of gesture to show love – is making something for another.

 

When – there’s a ceremony called the Berry Fast and it’s like a coming-of-age rite of passage for a young woman. And so, it’s like, when you have your first moon time which is – I guess you could call it a period, your first period – and so, what we do is we fast for that whole year, and the things that we’re fasting for, is for life. And so that kind of period in your life is about self-reflection.  But, also, how your womanhood or your power to give life reflects in the world around you. What you do affects the world around you. So, the things that you’re fasting for – And I don’t like to look at it as “you can’t do it, because you’re a woman.” It’s talking about how your power has the ability to affect and change the world around you.

 

I was given a new pair of moccasins when I came out of that fast. And so, during that year, my Grandmothers came to me and said: “Well you can’t dance during that year, during that time.” And so, when I came out it was all the more beautiful that I had a new pair of moccasins, that I had something new and beautiful to lay tracks in.

What does moccasin making mean to you?

Moccasin making, to me, is a gesture of sharing, of love. So, what you’re making, you make with intention.

 

So, if it’s for yourself, you’re thinking about: “Oh, I really want to make sure I walk in a good way, I walk with the things that were given to me from my teachers, I’m putting into these moccasins.”

 

So, it’s not just about how they look, necessarily, but it’s what you’re putting in, in terms of your energy, your intensions, what are you thinking about.

 

I’ve been told by my teachers that it’s important to think about how you’re feeling when you’re making them.

 

So, for instance, if you’re in a bad place, or like you’re making them for someone else and you’re in an angry mood when you’re making it – I think it totally matters how you’re feeling or what you’re thinking when you’re going to gift it to someone else.

 

So, I think that’s not always taught. There’s the skill, but then I think there’s also the spiritual connection that you have to your moccasins.

What is most misunderstood about moccasins? 

I think what is misunderstood about moccasins is – well, there’s a lot of things. But I think, first of all, the level of “ease” it takes to make them.

 

I think people like to question how are the spending their money. Why does it cost so much? Or what exactly goes into the materials? Maybe they’re not trying to be disrespectful, but maybe they just don’t know either.

 

So, I think clarifying that moccasins take a lot of time, money, energy, and sometimes a lot of thought too.

 

It’s good to have second thoughts about what you’re putting your money into. But also have that conversation and start that relationship with someone who makes moccasins.

 

I think people need to understand that it’s totally worth it.

Jingle Dress Dance

Description and credits for the Jingle Dress Dance*

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