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Making medicine pouches kicks off year of Indigenous workshops

Anishinaabe Initiatives, Ontario Indian Residential School Support Services partner to bring culture to the classroom
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Kimberly Pelletier, right, helps a participant with a pattern during a medicine pouch making workshop at Algoma University Saturday. James Hopkin

Kimberly Pelletier is teaching people how to make medicine pouches Saturday during a workshop that saw 30 registered participants - and more, counting a wave of others who dropped in throughout the day - make their own pouches during a one-day workshop at Algoma University.

The event kicks off a series of similar workshops that will take place throughout the year, as the result of a partnership between Anishinaabe Initiatives and Ontario Indian Residential School Support Services.

“Sometimes people want to have medicines while they’re traveling, so this is the little pouch that we’re making,” said Pelletier. “For most people, this is small enough to carry in their backpack, in their jacket pocket if they need it - we never know when we’re going to need help, so that’s why people have the medicines.”

The small medicine pouch Pelletier shows to SooToday has four traditional Anishinaabe medicines - tobacco, sage, sweetgrass and cedar - tucked into four pockets.

“This tobacco somebody grew for me, so are there are people in this community who grow their own tobacco in their yards, and then they take care of it so we don’t have to buy tobacco,” Pelletier said.  

A number of tables with sewing machines on top of them are scattered across a meeting room of the university, as people work from medicine pouch patterns that Pelletier has displayed on flip chart paper taped to the windows.

“I went and bought all the materials, all the ribbon and threads and all of that to make sure that everything here is accessible,” Pelletier said.

Pelletier, a social worker who is currently completing a Master of Social Work online through Sir Wilfrid Laurier University, says she usually carries around a much larger medicine pouch in case somebody in the community needs cultural support.   

“If somebody’s family is in the hospital, and they want support in a culturally sensitive way, then I can go in and say, ‘this is what we need from the hospital,’” Pelletier said. “They have that spiritual room, but they really need somebody who can understand what grief is, and how we’re going to work through that trauma - because we already have that trauma - so we want to make sure that we’re doing everything culturally sensitive.”

Pelletier says that workshops for making ribbon skirts, ribbon shirts, drum bags and feast bags will happen in the near future.

“I’ve been sewing forever, so this is like walking for me,” she said.

Ontario Indian Residential School Support Services received a $60,000 grant from the Ontario Arts Council’s Indigenous Cultural Fund in order to host the series of workshops throughout 2019.