Aboriginal Gathering Place Creates Material Practice Wellness Kits for Indigenous Students

The AGP's Material Practice Wellness Kits
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By Perrin Grauer

Posted on June 09, 2020 | Updated April 27, 2021, 3:59pm

Bringing together an extraordinary diversity of materials, the kits will help sustain cultural connection and creativity during the pandemic and beyond.

With pandemic restrictions only gradually beginning to lift in B.C., the Aboriginal Gathering Place at Emily Carr University has been assembling Material Practice Wellness kits to send to Indigenous community members.

Led by Brenda Crabtree, Director of the AGP and Special Advisor to the President on Indigenous Initiatives, and AGP Associate Director Connie Watts, the project is a way to engage remotely with community members, and sustain connection during the first phase of provincial reopening.

“We are targeting the kits for the Aboriginal students first, and depending on how many are left we will be including Aboriginal staff and faculty,” says Connie.

“The kits are a cultural connection to the materials and to the land.”

Material Practice Wellness Kit1
Photo by Perrin Grauer / Emily Carr University of Art + Design
Tanned fish skins for the AGP's Material Practice Wellness Kits

Materials on hand at the AGP include a selection of beads, natural and dyed caribou hair for tufting, hide rattle kits (cut rattle shaped hide, sinew for the seam and wooden dowel for the handle), interfacing and felt for beading, porcupine quills, leather and beading needles, scissors, tanned fish skins, tanned beaver tails, smoke tanned moose hide, seal skin, tanned hide, earring and necklace clasps, key ring, larger glass beads, horse hair, feathers, shimmering abalone buttons and thread.

Many of these will make their way into the wellness kits; others will be used to support other projects, such as the Decolonizing the Healthcare System through Cultural Connections initiative, which is temporarily on hold due to COVID-related health risks.

Material Practice Wellness Kit2
Photo by Perrin Grauer / Emily Carr University of Art + Design
AGP Associate Director Connie Watts shows off the extraordinary thickess of the smoke-tanned moose hides on their way into the AGP's Material Practice Wellness Kits

“With the diversity of materials, it will really let the students open up their creativity,” Connie says. “We will have zoom workshops and encourage the students to post their creations on social media.”

Brenda and Connie are excited to host these zoom workshop for our Indigenous creative practitioners. They will provide additional space for learning and sharing Aboriginal material practice. Brenda and her team were among the first to provide an online “First Nations art, technology and design course” (now called Aboriginal material practice) 15 years ago.

“They mailed out packages with DVD demonstrations and printed handouts,” Connie says. “The students would meet online once a week and post their creations on a Moodle site.”

Material Practice Wellness Kit4
Photo by Perrin Grauer / Emily Carr University of Art + Design
Porcupine quills for the AGP's Material Practice Wellness Kits

According to Brenda, even in those early days of online learning, the effort was a huge success, and participants had a great time connecting remotely.

Meanwhile, with the AGP’s annual grad lunch cancelled because of the pandemic, a series of gorgeous ceramic works by BC artist Laura Wee Lay Laq is being readied as gifts for ECU’s 16 Indigenous graduates in the Class of 2020.

“The gifts give us a reason to talk, to come together,” says Connie. “To talk about creating.”

Material Practice Wellness Kit5
Photo by Perrin Grauer / Emily Carr University of Art + Design
Tanned harbour seal skin for the AGP's Material Practice Wellness Kits