Students learn hands-on social justice lesson

YFile_REI1100_BeadworkingOne bead at a time, students in the Introduction to Social Justice: Race, Diaspora and Indigenous Studies course at York University are helping to bring awareness to the estimated 600-plus native women who have gone missing or were murdered in Canada in the past two decades.

Student Jasmine Mann tries her hand at bead-working along with other students in the Introduction to Social Justice: Race, Diaspora, and Indigenous Studies course

During a recent class, students sewed beads on “vamps” (the top pieces of moccasins) for an upcoming commemorative art installation – Walking with Our Sisters – that will pay tribute to the indigenous women. More than 600 moccasin tops are needed for the moveable installation, which will be exhibited in various galleries and sites across the country. The vamps will form a winding path that viewers can walk beside to remember.

“Twenty-three students tried their hand at bead working that night,” says Maggie Quirt, who is teaching a multicultural and indigenous studies course in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. “Some parts of the beaded vamps are creatively and deliberately left unfinished by a few bead workers, and the entire vamps are not turned into completed moccasins to represent the lives of MaggieQuirtindigenous women cut short – unfinished – through violence.”

Maggie Quirt

Dene beadworker of the Tlicho Nation and Trent University PhD student, Celine Mackenzie Vukson, came from Peterborough, Ont., to show the students how to prepare the beadwork using traditional indigenous methods on a pair of vamps. The students will work on their vamps at home over the next month and donate them to Walking with Our Sisters: A Commemorative Art Installation for the Missing and Murdered Women of Canada by the July 15 deadline.

It was an experiential exercise in social justice that fits with the theme of the course. Vukson, who teaches beadworking, is helping with the Walking with Our Sisters initiative led by Metis artist Christi Belcourt. She will CelineMackenzieVuksonRachellePaquet_beadworkingremain the consultant on beadwork throughout the course.

Celine Mackenzie Vukson, a Dene bead-worker of the Tlicho Nation, teaches bead-working to York student Rachelle Paquet

“The craft is new to many of us, as it is a traditional Dene custom with relatively few instructors here,” says Quirt.

What struck Quirt was not only Vukson’s generosity in teaching this Dene custom to students for more than three straight hours, after prepping supplies all day, “but the sheer willingness of all students – male/female, experienced sewers and novices – to try their hand at making vamps for this important social justice project.”

This is a pertinent way for students to not only learn about social justice, but participate in it, says Quirt.