Rematriation project’ hopes to return vintage Indigenous wares to their home communities

Red River Métis beader raises more than $6,000 to purchase items to gift back.

By Renée Lilley | CBC News.

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Beautifully beaded cultural pieces will return to Indigenous homes and communities, all thanks to a Manitoba Métis beadwork artist who hopes her “rematriation” project helps families reclaim part of their lost history.

Lor Brand, who is Red River Métis, began beading about five years ago. It started as a way for her to connect with the culture she never grew up with — and evolved into an online business where she sells her artwork.

A few months ago, a non-Indigenous person reached out through Brand’s online business, asking whether the artist wanted some beaded pieces the person owned but wasn’t using. The idea of moccasins, mukluks, and mittens sitting dormant in one person’s home sparked Brand’s curiosity: what else might be out there?

“It really got me thinking about all of these items that are sitting in people’s basements, or antique shops or auction houses,” she said. “They’re not in Indigenous homes or [not] being loved in general — and all the time and energy that goes into making these items deserves to be celebrated.”

Brand said a friend helped her rename the project to “rematriation” rather than repatriation, because discovering her Métis culture with her mom and her aunties felt like truly coming home — which is what she hopes to do with the pieces she finds.

“Matriarchs are the people who run our families,” Brand said. “They are the people who have passed down culture in my family, and I know I’m not alone in that, so rematriation felt much more appropriate than repatriation.”

In order to rematriate more cultural items, Brand put out a call on social media for donations so that she could buy more pieces in order to give them to Indigenous communities.

She was able to find the place of origin of some items she purchased, including Swan Lake First Nation and Shamattawa First Nation in Manitoba.

To help with more purchases, and the repair and packaging costs, Brand then decided to hold a raffle, where she received donations of prize items like custom earrings made by other creators. She also received more donations, noting she specifically asked non-Indigenous folks for their support.

Her efforts raised more than $6,000.

One of the prize contributors is another Métis bead artist.

Jocelyn Lamothe, a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta who lives near Edmonton, says she was grateful to be a part of the project.

“It’s a real honour and privilege to be able to have contributed, even in a really small way,” Lamothe said. She donated a pair of custom-made earrings.

“The empowering, collective support … clearly the project hit the hearts of many people,” she said. “There’s lots of work to be done as Indigenous people, and for Indigenous people, in our country, but I think this example … showed how the ripple effect of one person can really spread.”

Another Métis beadwork artist who has worked with Brand before says she knows the importance of sharing pieces that could link others to their family — and reclaim a piece of their history.

“It is a big responsibility. I think what she’s doing is a great idea,” said Jennine Krauchi, who is Red River Métis from Manitoba.

Reclaiming part of the past

There are also painful reasons as to why beadwork and other cultural items might have been sold or disposed of in the past.

“There was a time in our history, because of racism, [where] having beadwork or keeping it … within the First Nations was against the law.

“With the Métis, it identified them as Métis, so they would rather have hid them or got rid of them.”

Brand said, so far, she has purchased 50 items to give to various communities — and more are on the way.

During her search, she came across some instances of cultural appropriation, with some pieces she had hoped to buy being sold by a non-Indigenous person for their own gain.

Brand cleans and mends each item, if needed, and then posts it to her website. If she knows the place of origin, she lists that, too.

Choosing to whom the items are sent will work on an honour system, she said.

The items are open to Indigenous communities across Canada and the United States, with shipping costs covered by donations.

“I’m just excited for all these items to just be loved,” Brand said.

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