27 May 2015

Maskisina: A Guide to Northern-Style Métis Moccasins
by Gregory Scofield and Amy Briley, Historical Overview by Sherry Farrell Racette
Published by Gabriel Dumont Institute
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$24.95 ISBN 978-1-926795-11-9

Here’s a test for the efficacy of a “How To” book: 1) select one on a subject you have no knowledge of, and perhaps no previous interest in. 2) carefully read it. 3) if said title inspires you to want to do the “How To,” then you’ve just read a successful book.

I came to maskisina: A Guide to Northern-Style Métis Moccasins, by Gregory Scofield and Amy Briley, without knowing anything about the subject, though I spent years in northern Saskatchewan. The attractive, coil-bound guide is filled with step-by-step instructions and large photo illustrations that even the uncrafty could easily follow to create fur-trimmed, cuffed, or wrap-around moccasins from home-tanned moose hide or commercially-tanned leather. (Gorgeous beaded “vamps” that cover the forefoot are another skill, and literally, another book; see wâpikwaniy: A Beginner’s Guide to Métis Floral Beadwork, also published by the Gabriel Dumont Institute.)

The actual instructions, “Helpful Hints,” and brief anecdotes\advice (ie: “Acknowledge and respect that you are making a connection. The pair of moccasins you create connect the person to this Earth. The feelings, thoughts and energy that you put into them need to be good …”) are only part of what makes Maskisina an interesting read. It begins with an introduction by well-known poet Gregory Scofield, whose “maternal ancestry can be traced back to the fur trade.” Scofield is also an expert bead artisan. He was taught by his Auntie Georgina, and says both his beadwork and stories are “distinctly rooted in Cree/Métis tradition and art form and … in the soft rhythmic sound of my Auntie’s voice.”

Scofield tells the story of his aunt receiving a pair of moccasins in the mail from her sister-in-law, and upon opening the package, she inhaled deeply and said, “Oh my boy … Dat just smells like home and dah old days.” Then she slipped the moccasins on and “did a little jig.” In the spirit of “Pass it On,” Scofield taught his co-author, Amy Briley-who works for Gabriel Dumont Institute and lives in Martensville-to bead.

This durable book also includes an historical perspective by Sherry Farrell Racette, an artist, educator and academic, and a member of Timiskaming First Nation. She’s also a moccasin-maker, and her overview contains gems of information, ie: “Every major exploring expedition in what became northern Canada included women whose central role was caring for the clothing critical to survival, especially moccasins.” She writes that Sir John Franklin and John Rae “hired the wives of men employed for their expeditions,” and that the craft of making moccasins also engaged men, including Gabriel Dumont. I learned that on “very special occasions or for greatly revered and loved individuals,” the moccasin’s soles were beaded, as well. These decorative moccasins were not made for walking!

I am inspired: maybe someone on my Christmas list will actually get a pair of Leedahl-made moccasins! And if I run into any trouble while making them, I can also consult the instructional DVD provided with the book. Sweet package, Gabriel Dumont Institute!


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