Healing through Indigenous crafts – Medicine Hat NewsMedicine Hat News

By KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative reporter on February 22, 2022.

A two-tone buffalo skin drum is one of Brenda Mercer’s favorite designs. She thinks it’s a reflection of her life, being born to an Indigenous mother but raised by a non-Indigenous family, only to reconnect with her heritage later in life.–NEWS PHOTO KENDALL KING

[email protected]

Point by point, Brenda Mercer brings people together in an act of reconciliation, healing and recognition of Indigenous craft tradition.

Mercer, cultural coordinator of the Miywasin Friendship Center and founder of White Horse Rider Co., enjoys sharing her passion for creating handmade Indigenous items such as drums, rattles, earrings, souvenir pouches and more. She regularly teaches crafts at the Miywasin Center and throughout the city. She has also performed on shows like Tongue at the Post Folk Music Festival and the local TREX Space.

Mercer, who was separated from her birth mother and raised by a non-Indigenous family as part of the Sixties Scoop, is entirely self-taught in the art of Indigenous craftsmanship. She started learning in her twenties in order to connect with her native heritage.

“I just needed to know more about my culture,” Mercer told The News. “I think if you’re not raised in your culture, you have that desire. You want to know: ‘Where am I from?’

Not only creating a way to connect with a culture she was estranged from, but it also acts as a form of healing for Mercer, who was one of five Indigenous children in her hometown of Saskatchewan and, as a result, suffered prejudice from some non-Aboriginal people. peers and townspeople.

“It really gave me a lot of healing because it was so hard to be a 60s Scooper,” Mercer said. “Because I was raised in both worlds, I really believe that (craft) is a bridge and a connector.”

Although Mercer is often considered a local expert in Indigenous craftsmanship, she admits that she is still learning the crafting processes and the importance of each item.

“It’s a lot of trial and error when you don’t have anyone to teach you,” she says, “I started drumming probably 15 years ago. I really like that. I knew I wanted to do more, but when we were doing drums, we had no teaching, it was just, making a drum. So I didn’t know what it symbolized or what it meant.

During her own learning journey, Mercer realized that she enjoys sharing her knowledge with others and finds crafting and creating art to be a non-threatening and inviting way to spark conversations about healing and reconciliation. .

“Some of the best conversations I’ve had at Miywasin Crafting are when we look down (during work) and you don’t feel like you have to look up, you can just talk and you make that connection and talk about deep things,” she said. “We all need to connect more as people.

Since she began sharing her knowledge, Mercer has noticed an increase in the number of people who want to learn and listen, especially non-Indigenous people.

“I see a lot more people wanting to get involved,” she said. “I think it really started after 215 (graves of Aboriginal children were unearthed at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops).

Mercer is happy to see the increased engagement and hopes that as more people learn about Indigenous crafts and arts traditions, the more they will begin to participate.

“I think it’s important because I want to teach my children and my grandchildren, otherwise it ends there. It would be really nice to keep this tradition,” she said.

In an effort to stay true to traditional crafting processes, Mercer typically uses materials purchased from indigenous-owned stores, such as tendons and wild hides, but encourages creativity when it comes to using the items, as each item made is both a reflection of the individual who made it and a connection to Indigenous peoples has long passed.

“Everyone can create their own. I can guide them and then they can add whatever they want,” she said.

For Mercer, the most important feature of his designs is love.

“Everything I do, I do with love and good intentions,” she said. “I like the surprise effect. I sometimes go to the Superstore, stand in line with someone in front of me and say “Oh my God, I love your hair”. I know, they have 30 seconds until they leave, so I’m going to pull some earrings out of my bag and say, “I want to get you these earrings.” I made them with all my love and best intentions.'”

Although Mercer sells her items online through White Horse Rider Co.’s Etsy store, she still prefers to give them as gifts.

“I really like giving people a piece of our culture,” she said.

For more information on Indigenous crafts and art, healing or reconciliation, Mercer invites Hatters to come to the Miywasin Center or contact her by phone at 403-878-5548.