A colorful quilt will be the newest addition to the Indigenous artwork scheduled to be housed in Mount Royal University’s Iniskim Centre. The quilt work was embroidered in partnership between Michelle Gladue and Coral Williams, two university students who were paired up for a summer program dedicated to environmental research and Indigenous and non-Indigenous collaboration.

Gladue and Williams are one of eight Canadian teams who worked together on the SINEWS project — a grant dedicated to supporting female undergraduate students in science and technology and  building positive relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. 

Each student received a $12,000 grant and $5,000 for project costs. Research was done in various regions of Canada including the Northwest Territories, Grande Prairie and Fort Vermillion. Among the projects are fire weather indices and research on historical and traditional burning practices. 

Building pathways 

Bryana Rousselle, the Indigenous engagement coordinator at Natural Resources Canada SINEWS, said a key mandate of the program is to create public Indigenous interest and also provide students with opportunities to connect with the community. 

“Some of the projects didn’t really have enough time to form those relationships with community, but that was part of the learning is that it takes time to develop those relationships … That is a very important part of the whole project,” said Rousselle.

During their project titled The Medicine Walk, Gladue and Williams worked together in identifying different plant species through mapping where different types of vegetations can be found in the province.

The team sampled common weeds in Alberta like dandelions as part of their research. Sage and mountains are also included in the quilt to reflect Alberta’s landscape from an Indigenous perspective.

“We’re honoring Treaty 7 with our quilts because this is Treaty 7 land,” said Gladue, whose home is Calling Lake First Nation in Northern Alberta, a Cree-language speaking community part of Treaty 6 territory. SINEWS Quilt designThe designs on the quilt honour Treaty 7, such as the green embroidery depicting sweet grass, mountainous landscape and Métis heritage. Photo by Floyd Black Horse.

Gladue’s involvement in the project’s research was influenced by her own experiences with gathering plants for healing and medicine. Her connections with her culture have been strengthened since the birth of her two-year-old daughter. As a single mother, she says she is forming pathways for her daughter to follow.

“I’m really passionate about everything that I’ve been doing with her,” said Gladue. “Learning our heritage, it’s changed my life tremendously. Knowing how to raise my daughter and how to carry myself in a good way and be able to accomplish my goals.”

Gladue’s experience of learning about Indigenous culture also came from joining tipi circles with mentors and elders. Before Gladue decided on what to study in university, lodging helped her  be mentally and spiritually prepared for her journey ahead. It also helped her to develop a relationship with the land. 

“I’m learning about Indigenous natural healing and how we use medicines in the traditional way,” said Gladue. “And that’s where I was coming with it because lodging and going to ceremonies and learning things about my culture has been healing within itself.”

Growing friendship

Williams began collaborating with Gladue after responding to her Facebook post seeking a non-Indigenous research partner for the program.

Similar to Gladue, Williams is a single mother who shares an interest in health and medicine.

“I come from a family that is very holistic, and I’m very into natural remedies,” Williams explained. “I’m just eating healthy and wholesome, and I’m learning more about our Earth and all the benefits.”

Williams is enrolled at NAIT in the forest technology program and travelled back and forth from Edmonton to complete their project. The quilt was an opportunity for Williams to learn about diverse cultures within her field work.

Tipi SINEWSFrom left: SINEWS project participants Catherine McNalty, Cindy Shaw, Coral Williams, Michelle Gladue and Natural Resources Canada Indigenous engagement coordinator Bryana Rouselle stand in front of the Iniskim Centre tipi, which celebrates the accomplished work of the student’s research. Photo by Floyd Black Horse.

The decision to work together came with ups and downs, as developing a friendship through the process crossed western and Indigenous worldviews.

“I had a hard time trusting things, and it worked both ways,” said Williams. “But we really pushed through everything, and I think we came out the other side a lot stronger for it.”

The quilt was completed on Aug. 19, 2019. In celebration, Mount Royal University’s Iniskim Centre held an honoring ceremony for their project. A storytelling circle in an outdoor tipi setting as well as a traditional food and feast were part of the activities.

“I think the important thing with the quilt is that we did get together, and we designed it together,” said WIlliams. “We wanted to make sure that there is pieces in there that meant something to each of us as well as the communities that we’re from … to represent every person involved.”

Editor: Andrea Wong | awong@cjournal.ca

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