Indigenous Crafts with SAMRU: Create, connect and de-stress
By Mackenzie Mason, Arts Editor
COVID-19 has changed the way we do a lot of things, like the way we grocery shop and the way we go to school. While the adaptations that have been made to ensure our safety may have sparked innovation and creativity, many students are feeling the toll online school is taking on their physical and mental health.
As a way to combat the additional stresses online classes have caused, Shirley Hill has partnered with the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University (SAMRU) to facilitate a monthly Indigenous crafting session.
Shirley Hill, whose Blackfoot name is Pretty Songbird Woman, is from the Siksika Nation and has been a Fancy dancer and teacher for 38 years.
Before coming to Mount Royal University (MRU), Hill worked with the Aboriginal Headstart Program teaching arts and crafts to preschool students.
Now, she’s working with SAMRU and their Cultural and Indigenous Inclusion Programs to facilitate an Indigenous crafting session once a month to give students a chance to create their own artistic items while connecting with other students and learning about Indigenous culture.
“That was such a big change for me because with the little kids, they always look up to you and they’re playing and it’s always exciting and fun,” she said.
“So when I came to the university about five years ago, the beading and crafts class [became] a way [for students] to get away from studies and stress and be able to sit down, have a cup of coffee and a snack and learn a craft.”
SAMRU provides all the materials and supplies to make many different items such as Indigenous medicine pouches, earrings, dreamcatchers and medallions — all for free to pick up at SAMRU’s reception desk.
She said many of the items made in the crafting sessions bear great significance to the Indigenous community.
“These beaded items that one would wear, have a lot of meaning for that person. The medicine pouch [for example] is something that is really fun to wear but has more meaning when you make it and put something in it that has meaning for you like a crystal or sacred stone.”
The effects of virtual learning
Like many other arts and culture events this year, the monthly crafting event had to be moved to a virtual setting when MRU transferred their classes online in the spring.
“Now that everything’s online, it’s different for me because now I don’t have that direct interaction. I can’t physically help them with the fine motor skills and help them personally, but I have managed and hopefully I can explain it well enough online to have the students complete their project,” Hill said.
This difficulty Hill refers to is something that has been directly affecting students, their ability to learn and their ability to succeed. Without the face-to-face interactions with professors and classmates, many students are experiencing higher-than-normal stress levels.
That’s why Hill suggests the Indigenous crafting sessions as a way for students to relieve the stress they are experiencing to unwind and relax while making a handmade cultural item.
It’s also an opportunity for students to use their hands and their mind to put their efforts and energy into something that isn’t assignment after assignment.
“I genuinely understand where the students are coming from regarding money and having a roof over your head, while having to do the assignments and get them done [at the same time],” Hill said.
Regardless of whether you relax through Indigenous crafts, getting active or taking a nice, warm bath, it is important during these stressful times that students take care of their mental wellbeing.
“I think it would be enjoyable for [many] people and everyone’s welcome — I’ve had all kinds of different students come in. It’s not only Indigenous, it’s something that everyone can do and learn.”
There will be two more opportunities for students to de-stress and unwind this year with Shirley Hill and the Indigenous craft sessions on Nov. 26 and Dec. 3, where sessions, along with classes, will continue to be facilitated online.