Beaded mask contest winner honours the sister she lost during the pandemic

COVID-19 has taken a heavy toll on people in Manitoba First Nations, which have experienced high rates of infection and hospitalizations. To help lift people’s spirits, Fisher River Cree Nation’s healing centre recently created a beaded mask contest for folks to keep busy during the pandemic.

The contest opened on Feb. 1 to three communities: Fisher River Cree Nation, Kinonjeoshtegon or Jackhead First Nation and Peguis First Nation — where the first-place winner lives, approximately 190 kilometres north of Winnipeg. 

Susie Cochrane, the winner, says she lost a lot of family members during the last two years of the pandemic, including her sister, who used to bead with her before she died of cancer last December. She said entering the contest was something she could do in her remembrance.

She had until March 11 when the contest closed to submit her work. 

‘I’ll make this to remember her’

“My sister always beaded with me and when I lost her I thought, ‘OK I’ll make this to remember her, too’,” Cochrane said. 

The other side of Cochrane’s first-place beaded mask shows more flowers and a butterfly design. (First Nation Healing Centre/Facebook)

Cochrane’s design was chosen for its unique aspects, including real birchbark as the backing for the beads. She says it was fun to make, and took her about a week, beading for a couple hours each night.

“It was a good experience, I feel like it’s representative of Native people, we’re all part of this COVID thing,” she said. 

Cochrane plans to donate her mask to a historical society being planned in Peguis. She says donating it would be important for the community to remember that COVID was there. 

As of this week, the total cumulative number of COVID-19 cases in Manitoba’s First Nations was 23,011.

A way to get people to keep wearing masks

Teri-Ann Cochrane, no relation to Susie, was the organizer of the beaded mask contest. She is a respite worker at Fisher River’s First Nation Healing Centre. She came up with the idea to encourage people to keep wearing their masks, and stay entertained.

“It was coming to the point where we were just like, ‘Oh, we’re getting sick of wearing these’. I wanted people to continue wearing them for the safety of their health,” she said. 

This design was chosen as second-place winner in Fisher River Cree Nation’s healing centre’s contest. (First Nation Healing Centre/Facebook)

“We’re such a small community, there weren’t [many] things that were going on here, and it was kind of getting depressing, people were getting depressed,” she said. “The whole point was for the people to have some fun by beading.”

She says feedback from the 12 participants was all positive. 

“They enjoyed it, and it took their mind off what was going on in the community. The cases were high out this way, so everybody just kind of keeps to themselves and stays in their own bubble.” 

Judging based on materials, story behind the mask

Choosing winners from the entries was no easy feat. 

“It was so hard, first of all. It was really difficult,” said Katina Cochrane, one of the judges and the executive director of the First Nation Healing Centre in Fisher River. 

This design was chosen as third-place winner in Fisher River Cree Nation’s healing centre’s contest. (First Nation Healing Centre/Facebook)

Katina says she broke down her judging into categories like materials used and if there was a story behind it. 

“Susie’s just blew me away, with how unique her idea was with the birchbark,” she said. 

“You know, birchbark is something that’s connected to our women. A lot of our women long ago used to do birchbark biting designs. So I thought that was really neat how she used that material to create something so beautiful.”

Katina says she was excited right away to approve Teri’s idea for the contest, and agreed with her in hoping the project would help with community member’s mental health and also some awareness for their beadwork. 

All five winners received monetary prizes, while every other participant also got gift cards and merchandise from the health centre for their efforts. 

This design was chosen as the fourth-place winner in Fisher River Cree Nation’s healing centre’s contest. (First Nation Healing Centre/Facebook)

Susie says she did not expect to win first place.

“It was fun making it. I was surprised because I didn’t see anybody else’s entry until after it was over. I was like, ‘oh wow, OK, sounds good!”

With her prize money so far she’s bought some treats for her grandchildren and is saving the rest. 

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