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Manitoba First Nations artist filled with pride, as family project is chosen for display on special day

An art project has one First Nations mother proud to see Indigenous culture and crafts celebrated in a northern Manitoba high school.

The project, called NikihNan, which translates to “home” in English, is a moose-hide coat created by three high school students — Karalyn Bradburn, Kayneena Keeper and Mallory Bradburn — and will be displayed at R. D. Parker Collegiate in Thompson for National Indigenous Peoples Day.

“I was really happy for them. I was very honoured,” said Amanda Grieves, who raises all three girls and is a northern artist herself.

“It’s a feeling that I can’t explain but I feel a sense of pride, like gratitude just seeing my daughters put what they know about their culture and what they’re allowed to know about their culture because when I was growing up, I never knew about it.”

Grieves, a Bunibonibee Cree Nation member, said she does not remember learning anything about her culture in school, and it was not until university when she learned about residential school, colonialism and the intergenerational impacts.

A woman sits next to an art project.
Amanda Grieves, Bunibonibee Cree Nation member and mother, sits with the art project NikihNan made by her family. The project titled NikihNan in Cree will be displayed at R. D. Parker Collegiate for Indigenous Peoples Day in Thompson, Man. (Jenna Dulewich/CBC)

“It just started making more sense … that was all around us but we just didn’t know the negative, the hardships that we experienced in our communities — those were the impacts of colonialism.”

Now seeing her children and family in school and having a whole class dedicated to Indigenous culture and learning, has the mother feeling “thankful and proud.”

“You know, pieces of their memories that they have, right, and all the beautiful memories that they have, and then they just put it all together,” Grieves said.

The art project was made as part of the culture exploration course with the collegiate, where students from Grade 9 to 12 can gain a full credit if they complete 110 hours of exploring their culture which could include sweat lodge, smudging or going to ceremony with elders.

“I’ve been wanting to learn about my culture more,” said Kayneena Keeper, a Grade 9 student, who added her first beaded piece to the project. 

Keeper said she originally learned how to bead from her teacher and her sister. Her piece features a pink circle, meant to deliver the message “stop bullying.”

“Talking about our tradition and seeing people in their jingle dresses and everything, I don’t really know about it but I’m still learning,” Keeper said.

A girl sits with a big smile in front of an art piece.
Kayneena Keeper, 14, sits with the art project NikihNan that will be displayed in the high school in Thompson, Man. (Jenna Dulewich/CBC)

NikihNan is an art project full of many meanings, the artists explained.

The coat is tanned hide and child-sized as children represent innocence; the red, green, yellow and blue colours in the teepee represent the colours of the four directions; the orange colour of the teepee is in honour of Orange Shirt Day; the three poles for the teepee are for mind, body and spirit; and the coat is also adorned with jingles because a jingle dress is healing.

Karalyn Bradburn, a Grade 12 student, also added her beaded pieces to the project and a purple flower in honour of her cousin who died from cancer.

Bradburn learned how to bead in her early teens but said sewing hide was a new skill learned for the project, noting the project took months of hard work.

The 18-year-old said she was surprised to hear the project would be displayed in the school. 

“I didn’t think it would get that much recognition,” Bradburn said.

The creativity doesn’t fall far from the tree as Grieves is known in the north for making ribbon skirts and jingle dresses including three traditional pieces for this year’s graduation ceremony, one that will be worn by her daughter Karalyn.

Seeing culture and tradition in the school and part of the graduation ceremony is something that makes Grieves happy.

“It just warms my heart to see the jingle dresses being honoured at graduation ceremonies,” Grieves said.

“A lot of people don’t know about our culture, that was taken away, right? And we’re just relearning.”

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