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Story for Sarah Cleary

I’m originally from Deline, where I grew up surrounded by many talented women who taught me how sewing can help me survive on the land. My mother and four stepsisters were always very encouraging. They were such good teachers. I used to cry cause I didn’t want to sew, but my one stepsister Jane said, “I just want to make sure she is going to be okay when she grows up.” She was so persistent! But it paid off – when I finished my first pair of uppers, she said she was relieved she didn’t have to worry about me anymore. She was right – I made crafts and sold them during university. I like knowing that if modern science crashes I can always go out on the land and survive. It’s very important.

When I was growing up we used to make our own dolls because we had no toys. I made my first doll at nine years old and I am still making them today. This craft is a way for me to preserve our heritage. They keep me connected to my culture and remind me of being a young girl growing up on the land because they have traditional clothes like we used to wear. They helped me survive any hardship or challenging time I’ve faced. They remind me of my mother and her strength, and that makes me strong.

Today I can sew any kind of clothing - moccasins, mukluks, mitts, jackets or parkas.  Anything people request, I can make it. Roses are my favourite flower to sew but now I’m also making tulips and sunflowers. It’s fun to play with different colours and designs. I do a lot of repairs as well. I like to help people who have lost one of a pair of traditional mitts - I’ll get them to send it to me and then I will make the other to match. People are so thankful for this.

Sewing to me is like reading a book - it keeps my mind relaxed and my hands busy. I like to sew to see the end product and the joy on people’s faces when I show them what I have made for them. That inspires me to keep making new things. I have a bunch of photos hanging on the wall of my mother and stepsisters and I know they would be proud. I also try to preserve the culture by passing it on. I have been teaching my niece since she was three years old and she is really good! That makes me feel proud.