‘Repatriation Project’ hopes to return vintage Indigenous goods to their home communities
Beautifully beaded cultural pieces will return to Indigenous homes and communities, all thanks to a Métis beadwork artist from Manitoba who hopes her ‘remarriage’ project will help families reclaim some of their lost history.
Lor Brand, who is Metis from Red River, started beading about five years ago. It started as a way for her to connect with culture she never grew up with – and evolved into an online business where she sells her artwork.
A few months ago, a non-Indigenous person contacted Brand’s online business, asking if the artist wanted any beaded pieces that the person owned but did not use. The idea of moccasins, mukluks and mittens sleeping in someone’s house sparked Brand’s curiosity: what else could be there?
“It really made me think of all those items that are in people’s basements, or at antique shops or auction houses,” she said. “They are not in native homes or [not] to be loved in general – and all the time and energy put into making these items is worth celebrating.”
Brand said a friend helped her rebrand the project as “rematriation” rather than repatriation because learning about her mixed-race culture with her mother and aunts made her feel like she was really coming home – c is what she hopes to do with the coins she finds.
“The matriarchs are the people who run our families,” Brand said. “These are the people who passed on the culture in my family, and I know I’m not the only one, so repatriation felt much more appropriate than repatriation.”
In an effort to rematerialize more cultural artifacts, Brand has appealed for donations on social media so she can purchase more pieces to donate to Indigenous communities.
She was able to find the origin of some items she purchased, including Swan Lake First Nation and Shamattawa First Nation in Manitoba.
To help with more purchases and repair and packaging costs, Brand then decided to hold a raffle, where she received donations of items like custom earrings made by other designers. She also received more donations, noting that she specifically asked for their support from non-Indigenous people.
Her efforts have raised over $6,000.
One of the award contributors is another Métis bead artist.
Jocelyn Lamothe, a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta who lives near Edmonton, says she was grateful to be part of the project.
“It’s a real honor and privilege to be able to contribute, even in a very small way,” said Lamothe. She donated a pair of custom-made earrings.
“The collective and empowering support… clearly the project touched the hearts of many people,” she said. “There’s a lot of work to be done as Indigenous people, and for Indigenous people, in our country, but I think this example…showed how the ripple effect of just one person can really spread. “
Another Métis pearl artist who has worked with Brand before says she knows the importance of sharing pieces that could connect others to their family – and reclaim a piece of their history.
“It’s a big responsibility. I think what she’s doing is a great idea,” said Jennine Krauchi, a Red River Métis woman from Manitoba.
Reclaiming a part of the past
There are also painful reasons why beadwork and other cultural objects may have been sold or disposed of in the past.
“There was a time in our history, because of racism, [where] having pearls or keeping them…within the First Nations was against the law.
“With the Metis, it identified them as Metis, so they would have preferred to hide them or get rid of them.”
Brand said so far she’s purchased 50 items to donate to various communities – with more on the way.
During her research, she came across instances of cultural appropriation, with some pieces she hoped to purchase being sold by a non-Indigenous person for their own profit.
The brand cleans and repairs each item, if necessary, then publishes it on its website. If she knows the place of origin, she also lists it.
Choosing who items are sent to will work on an honor system, she said.
Items are open to Indigenous communities in Canada and the United States, with shipping costs covered by donations.
“I’m just thrilled that all of these items are just loved,” Brand said.