Aboriginal gathering and art fair in Montreal was a hit

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Craft Fair_ Saimata ManningDecember’s Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network gathering was a blast.

The gatherings happen three times a year, bringing together a handful of Montreal-based Aboriginal organizations to discuss ways to improve the quality of life for the city’s First Nations and Inuit populations.

The latest gathering was organized around the theme of crafts, and featured a craft fair and offered a number of free workshops.

Marie-Céline Charron, a powwow dancer from Mistissini who has been practicing traditional crafts since childhood, led the workshops. During 45-minute exercises, Charron walked people through the steps to make a medicine bag, earrings and a dreamcatcher.

I took part in the dreamcatcher workshop.

Weaving a dreamcatcher was harder than I had imagined. We were given a small hoop, leather rope and a thread to weave within the hoop. Many of the 10 participants – including my neighbour who I repeatedly turned to for help – already had experience making dreamcatchers.

I eventually finished, long after everyone else had completed their own. Rather than achieving a cool and intricate pattern, mine looked, well, amateur. 

One of the highlights of the workshops was the friendly vibe and laughter.

Saimata Manning, a coordinator at Ivirtivik, an Inuit employment organization, said that the gatherings are important events for Montreal’s Aboriginal communities.

“It brings the Aboriginal community together,” she said. “We talk and mingle. It’s good to be known in a big city. It’s important we’re part of society and community. It’s important for others to know there are programs available for Aboriginals.”

Manning enjoyed the dreamcatcher workshop, and in fact, made a stellar example.

But she told me she is not planning on keeping it. “I heard it was bad luck to keep it so I gave it away.”

Charron said that a dreamcatcher is a good charm that brings positive energy. Dreamcatchers, she said, were originally an Algonquin tradition that became intertribal. 

There were also incredible works at the craft fair, including beadwork and powwow regalia.

Craft fair_dream catcher workshopBut there were also many pieces that were not traditional, highlighting the wide range of works being done by Quebec First Nations.

A young Concordia University student selling a series of postcards impressed me. They were prints of watercolours he’d done of Montreal, its cafes, train stations and urban atmosphere. The colours really popped. The lines were squiggly, making the drawings look like they’d been done quickly and effortlessly.

Ramelia Chamichian, who works for the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network, organized the event. She put together the agenda for the discussions, organized the workshops and craft fair, as well as two art exhibits.

“It is very important to think of every single detail, to make every member, every volunteer, every craftsperson and every person present, feel at ease and comfortable and to basically listen to their different needs.”

Chamichian says that the one ingredient that was missing is funding for advertising. Most people found out about it through Facebook or e-mail. And that was reflected in the turnout for people who came specifically for the craft fair, which was quite low.

But no doubt if this can be organized, similar events would be hits. This one was certainly a cool experience.

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