Whitney Whiteduck beads a fish design onto a swatch of deer hide.
Whitney Whiteduck beads a fish design onto a swatch of deer hide.

The smell of freshly baked gingerbread fills Mamidosewin Centre as students filter in to take a break, tackle work in between classes, or chat with friends. A special table is laid out today, sporting a stack of deer hide and a bin of colourful, glittering beads.

Every Tuesday at the Mamidosewin centre from 1-4pm, students drop-in to help out together a special project organized by Elena Abel, activity coordinator of Mamidosewin Centre.

“We’re making medicine bags, and inside is sage, one of our traditional medicines,” says Abel. “What we’re doing is making these and giving them as gifts to students at the Indigenous Student Graduate Honouring Ceremony.”

This ceremony takes place at the end of April every year. The event is an organized effort between post-secondary institutions in the area.

“It’s different from the regular convocation because we have the elders on stage to present each student with their certificate and a gift, along with a traditional feast and some Aboriginal drumming and music,” says Abel. “It’s a chance to really celebrate the accomplishments of the Aboriginal students, but also acknowledge all of the support they receive from the community.”

For many, the beading experience is very new. This is the first workshop Krista Blackned, a second-year student in office administration, has attended at Mamidosewin Centre.

“I like taking small things and turning them into bigger projects.”

“My class finishes right before this, so I just like coming here and beading. It’s really relaxing. Once you get used to beading with the deer hide, it’s pretty easy,” says Blackned, pushing her needle through the hide to secure another bead in place.

Despite the convocation not taking place until the end of April, the beading process can be very tedious, which is why Abel wanted to start the project so early.

“I’ve been beading for an hour and this is all I have done,” says Whitney Whiteduck, showing off two small lines of beads that make up the tail of a fish. Whiteduck is a peer support worker at the centre. As many of the students choose floral designs, Whiteduck has taken it upon herself to make up for the lack of masculine or neutral designs.

“Just so the boys don’t have to take a flower,” she laughs.

Veronica Vary, a first-year animation, joins us at the table to continue with her beading design: a beautiful floral design in white and bright orange, red, and yellow. Her colour selection makes the design look like a flame, something she says the pattern initially reminded her of.

“I like making things in general. Growing up where I did, we didn’t have much for entertainment. We were very productive though. I like taking small things and turning them into bigger projects,” she says. “The fact that you’re taking what little you have and turning it into something inspiring, that’s what I enjoy the most.”