Wet’suwet’en elder Mabel Forsythe is handing down the beading and leatherworking skills she learned from her mother at a mukluk-making class at the Northwest Community College (NWCC) in Smithers.
About 20 people were last Wednesday starting to assemble the soft leather boots using pieces of leather adorned with beading of their own designs.
The four-part workshop series is part of a wider NWCC program offering classes in traditional Wet’suwet’en arts and crafts.
Forsythe has been hired by the college as an “elder in residence” for her craftsmanship and extensive cultural knowledge.
She said she learned how to make mukluks from her mother, who had her perfect each step before progressing to the next.
“I did beadwork since I was eight and then later on years I learned how to assemble it but at first I just did the beadwork on the top,” she said.
“It’s important to me to pass this knowledge on to the younger people.”
Forsythe has also run workshops on how to make medicine pouches at the college.
NWCC First Nations access coordinator Katie Humphrey said Forsythe’s classes were so popular the college was keeping waiting lists.
“We have about a 15 person waiting list and we still have phone calls and emails (coming in) asking to sign up,” she said.
The classes are open first to college staff and students, with any remaining spaces made available to members of the public.
Smithers woman Virginia Dewit signed up for the class after she saw it advertised on social media.
She started beading as a child in Moricetown but had not used her skills for a long time before she signed up for the class.
“I haven’t been beading for a long, long time,” she said.
“I heard about it on Facebook and I’m very interested, I’ve never made mukluks before.”
Dewit said she was enjoying the opportunity to learn new skills as part of a group.
“I get satisfaction after I finish the project and it’s very relaxing and we meet people and work together,” she said.