FPCC is sharing the creative ways communities and individuals are changing their projects during COVID-19. This series on COVID-19 success stories feature some specific examples of how a willingness to be creative and flexible during this challenging time has led to new and exciting work.
Karen Plasway has been working for her community, Witset First Nation, as the Employment Assistance Service Coordinator for the past seven years and is dedicated to helping community members look for job and training opportunities. When she faced challenges engaging people in the career development program, she decided to integrate cultural activities and received a grant from the FPCC Indigenous Arts Program to support a sewing and quilt-making program. With the onset of COVID-19 restrictions, she worked to keep her sewing classes running as it had become an important support for participants. This program is having a positive impact by supporting participants’ cultural connections as they increase their skills and confidence to support career development.
There are many factors that affect the health and wellness of a community and connections to language, arts and culture are known to have a positive impact. Karen looked at the needs of her community as a whole and realized that many members were working through personal challenges that needed more than what her current program offered. She adjusted the focus of the career program from finding employment to first focusing on building skills and confidence through cultural connections. In 2018, Karen received an Organizations and Collectives grant from the FPCC Indigenous Arts Program with the goal of supporting program participants to reclaim their traditional art practices. Within the career development program, she prioritized and integrated cultural practices to support participants’ sense of self-identity and confidence.
The funding was used to support a sewing class that originally began five years ago with donated material and sewing machines. The class is led by three mentors, Christine, Lucy and Cathy, and has sparked interest throughout the community. The course teaches sewing skills, but the time spent with the mentors also provides connections to other forms of knowledge transfer and opportunities to learn more about the cultural connections behind the practice of quilting. Within the sewing classes, the fluent Witsuwit’en-speaking mentors also connect arts and language practices when they share Witsuwit’en words related to sewing and quilting.
Creating opportunities to connect with a community of sewers, to learn from Elders and to learn new skills rooted in their culture has resulted in many benefits for all involved. “It gives participants a foundation for who they are, who their ancestors were, how they lived off the land, how they took care of the land and how they took care of themselves,” said Karen. “These activities that are sponsored by the First Peoples’ Cultural Council have really defined and started a movement. It’s invigorating, it’s exciting and it’s just so pleasing to see.”
Adrienne Wilson was quiet and shy when she first joined the sewing group. Over time, Karen saw her become dedicated to her sewing and quilt making, which helped her gain confidence in many areas in her life. Adrienne went on to get her driver’s license and decided to take part in the community’s Education Society Discovery Program. She also completed her GED (General Education Development) and is now in her second year of the University College Entry Prep Program. “She is just doing amazing. You could just see the joy in her when she completed her quilt,” said Karen. With her newly developed skills in sewing, she has also become an entrepreneur and has received requests from businesses to have her products featured in their stores.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started last year, Karen and the participants had to adjust their sewing classes to continue the work. When small group gatherings were permitted, and following the COVID-19 public health orders and their community guidelines, they made the class size smaller, limited in-person contact with Elders, and reduced sessions to six participants. With support from community administration, Karen acquired longer tables so participants could physically distance from each other to make sure that they could safely continue sewing. They provided hands-free sanitizer pumps and face shields for participants, and the group established sanitization protocols. Keeping their Elders safe continues to be a priority for the Witset community. “We have felt very supported, even with the COVID restrictions. FPCC was very understanding,” said Karen. “These activities are really contributing to the revitalization of our culture. I can’t say it enough and how thankful I am to have come across this funding for all of the activities that are happening.”
FPCC has supported the program through the Organizations and Collectives grant and more recently with funding to improve the program workspace through the Community Arts Infrastructure grant. FPCC is excited to support this great work and we raise our hands to all of the participants, to Karen for her dedication to her community and to the work she has put into making this program a success.
View our other COVID-19 success stories here.
Current FPCC funding opportunities click here.
Share Your Story!
Do you have COVID-19 success stories about how you have adapted the work you do in First Nations languages, cultural heritage and Indigenous arts in B.C.? We want to hear from you! Please send your story to firstname.lastname@example.org and check back as we post more stories about the good work being done across the province.
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