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Former Bear River First Nation chief to facilitate basketry workshop at Kings County Museum in Kentville

Frank Meuse, former chief of Bear River First Nation, will be sharing the traditional Mi’kmaq skill of weaving baskets from white ash as part of a workshop at the Kings County Museum in Kentville on June 16.
Frank Meuse, former chief of Bear River First Nation, will be sharing the traditional Mi’kmaq skill of weaving baskets from white ash as part of a workshop at the Kings County Museum in Kentville on June 16. - Submitted

KENTVILLE, NS - It’s an event that will celebrate the contributions of the Mi’kmaq people through a partnership between Kentville’s business and cultural communities.

The Kentville Business Community and the Kings Historical Society will present a Mi’kmaq basket making workshop at the Kings County Museum in Kentville on June 16. Participants will learn to weave a six-inch basket without handles out of white ash.

Facilitator Frank Meuse, former chief of the Bear River First Nation, said he doesn’t do many workshops but he doesn’t mind sharing his skills with others.

“It’s wonderful that people are willing to take time out to learn about this aspect of our culture and this craft, so I’m looking forward to the day and hopefully it will be a fun day for everyone,” Meuse said.

He said it’s important to build partnerships to move forward, not only in government but in arts and other areas. Meuse said it’s important to take time to share our stories, crafts and skills with each other and, in doing so, break down barriers.

READ A STORY ABOUT AN ARCHEOLOGICAL DIG AT KEJI THAT UNCOVERED MI’KMAQ ARTIFACTS HERE.

READ A STORY ABOUT MI’KMAQ CULTURE BEING CELEBRATED AS PART OF EAGLE WATCH HERE.

The program will begin with a traditional smudging ceremony and sharing circle followed by basket making and ending with a closing circle. Meuse said circles and cycles play a significant role in Mi’kmaq culture and this is a natural way of doing things.

He said beginning with a sharing circle can serve as an ice breaker and demonstrate Mi’kmaq democracy. Everyone will be given an opportunity to introduce themselves and speak if they wish. Meuse said they’d likely use a talking stick.

Whoever is in possession of the stick is the only one who can speak at that time while everyone else listens and waits their turn. This empowers everyone in the circle, making them feel a part of something and that they belong.

Meuse said he will be teaching participants traditional weaving techniques. There is a lot of work involved in making a basket from the point the tree is harvested to the finished product.

“If you were to build one basket from start to finish, you’re looking at probably a week’s process,” Meuse said.

You might have to visit up to 100 white ash trees before finding one that is ideal for making baskets. Each has its own unique characteristics and some are easier to work with than others. He said it’s always good to give thanks for the tree and its life and this is important to emphasize.

Once you harvest the tree, you have to split it down and pound out the basket splints with a mallet. The splints are scraped until the surface is smooth and clean, graded and cut to length.

Each splint is taken from a growth ring of the tree so it represents one year of the tree’s life.

“You want them fairly fine, so you want to find a tree that’s grown very slowly so the growth rings are a lot tighter and thinner. That will make it easier to make baskets,” he said.

Meuse said he would have all the wood prepared for the workshop participants but he will tell them about the process involved and demonstrate how you get the finished splints. He said the actual weaving is probably the easiest part of the whole process.

Collaborative effort

Kings County Museum office manager Kate MacInnes Adams said the basket making workshop also represents a burgeoning partnership between the Kentville Business Community (KBC) group chaired by Dave Reid and the Kings Historical Society.

It’s the first project the two groups have officially partnered on. Registration for the basketry workshop’s 15 spots filled in less than 24 hours and there is now a waiting list. A $50 registration fee covers the cost of all materials.

MacInnes Adams joined the KBC’s events committee last year because she wanted to get more involved in community happenings. She felt there was a need for closer communication among members of the business community and those involved in cultural entities like the historical society and CentreStage Theatre.

The KBC, CentreStage and the historical society partnered last year on a multicultural festival and plan to do so again this year.

READ A STORY ABOUT THE 2017 KENTVILLE MULTICULTURAL EVENT HERE.

MacInnes Adams said the workshop is a great example of how community groups can come together to support one another. The synergy created by these collaborations can result in some great community events.

“We are one, we make up what people come to Kentville to experience,” she said. “It’s not just the businesses, it’s also the cultural side of things.”

Although the basketry workshop takes place on June 16 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the event is being held in recognition of National Indigenous Peoples Day, which falls on June 21. MacInnes Adams said they wanted to hold the workshop on a Saturday, so they scheduled it five days ahead of National Indigenous Peoples Day.

She said the workshop would celebrate the significant contributions of the Mi’kmaq people by offering an opportunity to learn the basics of the traditional skill of basket weaving and observing traditional Mi’kmaq ceremonies.

Kirk.starratt@kingscountynews.ca

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