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Embracing tradition: Hopedale students learn the art of making snowshoes, share new skills with others

The snowshoe workshop in the ACMS Learning Commons.
The snowshoe workshop in the ACMS Learning Commons. - Contributed



Billie Jean Tuglavina making snowshoes.
Billie Jean Tuglavina making snowshoes.

A group of students from Amos Comenius Memorial School (ACMS) in Hopedale enjoyed an opportunity recently to learn about an area of their culture and heritage through a hands-on project. 

With the assistance of senior high school social studies teacher Curtis Oliver, a snowshoe-making workshop  took place recently at the school where the majority of the 145 students from grades Kindergarten-12 are of Inuit descent.

The workshop focused on Indigenous land-based education and covered several outcomes of the Labrador Inuit Society and Culture course offered to high school students.

Eight students from Grades 10-12 were selected to take part in the workshop — Ben Coombs, Nicholas Flowers, Halle Lucy, John Piercy, Billie Jean Tuglavina, Freeman Jararuse, William Tuglavina and Nathaniel Winters.

The learning opportunities focused on Inuit culture, heritage, traditions, and especially interactions with community members — the knowledge keepers.

According to a statement about the workshop, “This experience had a positive impact on our students’ learning and gave them a sense of belonging within their school and community. The students absolutely loved it and were very engaged.”

Gifts from within and outside Hopedale were instrumental in the workshop’s success. The local Kamatsiatet Committee donated funds to purchase the snowshoe frames (see related sidebar) while East Coast Hydraulics Ltd. chipped in for the twine material.

Cultural connection

Students learned about the construction of the snowshoes and then how to fill them with poly twine from workshop instructor Reuben Flowers.

Flowers, an Indigenous lifeskills instructor at ACMS, was born and raised in Hopedale and is very knowledgeable in the cultural traditions of the community. A few community members were also in attendance to help assist the students as they learned how to fill all three sections of the snowshoe.

The workshop wasn’t all work for staff and students. Bernice Lucy and Wanda Lucy provided a cultural-rich lunch of partridge soup, sanamajuit (fried bread dough), and red berry jam. This allowed students time to connect with their peers and community members who were involved in the workshop.

Workshop participants Nicholas and John each completed a pair of snowshoes and have started on another set.

Nicholas Flowers displaying his finished snowshoes.
Nicholas Flowers displaying his finished snowshoes.

Students become teachers

A few weeks after the workshop Nicholas and Billie Jean took their newfound skills to another level by visiting Academy Canada’s adult basic education class (ABE) for a demonstration.

Students became teachers to share with the ABE class what they had learned through the workshop.

Billie Jean demonstrated the painstaking installation of the nose and tail lacing to the selvage cordage attached through pre-drilled holes in the frame. Nicholas showed students how to fill the bigger main part of the snowshoes.

Nicholas pointed out that he likes juniper for the beams because of its deeper contrasting colour and denser wood for durability. Poly twines or synthetic sinews were the choice of twines for the ends. He added that his ancestors would have used narrow strips of dried caribou hide instead of the poly twine. Larger sizes and colors of poly twines, green and blue in this case, were used to complete the main portion.

Twenty fathoms of twine for the body of the shoe, two fathoms for the nose, and four for the tail or heel. Nearly thirty fathoms or about 55 metres.

For his first pair of shoes the entire tedious and time-consuming process took Nicholas four days to complete from start to finish. He’s hoping with experience to cut that time down on his next pairs of snowshoes. Yes, pairs. Nicholas has been asked to make a third pair to be displayed at the Happy Valley-Goose Bay Newfoundland and Labrador English School District office. And only fitting, a plaque inscribed with his name will honour his accomplishment.

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