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Vintage moccasins find their way home

Artist Sandra Semchuk of Meadow Lake recently gifted a box of vintage moccasins to the Meadow Lake Tribal Council – some of which had been in her family’s possession since the 1950s.

“I was born in 1948, and my uncle, Graham Pearson, had a store called G&E Men’s Wear on the main street while my auntie, Elsie Pearson, had G&E Ladies Wear kitty-corner to that,” Semchuk said in an article of Northern Pride. “My family was next door to Uncle Graham’s place with Semchuk’s Red and White store. In the 1950s, what I remember as a child, was my uncle buying moccasins from women from different communities all across the North – places like Beauval, Canoe Lake and so on.” “There was a central hub in the middle of the store where his cash register was, and all around he would display these moccasins,” she said. “The moccasins were often fully beaded with specific designs to the areas they were from – the floral patterns from Patuanak, the more geometrical patterns of Catherine McCallum’s work. They were patterns handed down generation after generation, so there was a history. As children, my cousin and I would spend a lot of time admiring these moccasins.” When Graham Pearson passed away, his niece Semchuk became responsible for handling his estate. “I always wondered if there were any moccasins left,” she said. “When there is something that holds such a bright spot in your heart from such a young age, you don’t forget.” Semchuk's late husband soon came across a box of moccasins among Pearson's estate – the same ones Semchuk remembered from her childhood. "It was such an amazing thing,” she said. “I asked his grandchildren if it would be OK if I kept the moccasins and they agreed. James and I were originally hoping to do a piece of art with them, as he and I did a lot of collaborative work. However, James died in October of that same year – very close to the time my uncle died – and he passed. I kept the moccasins, and ended up taking care of them from that time hoping to find the right way and the right time to bring them home.”

“Recently, I felt I needed to put a push on this to try to find a better way to take care of these moccasins or have someone else take responsibility for them,” she said. An agreement has been made with the Meadow Lake Tribal Council to prepare the moccasins as a travelling exhibit across First Nations communities. “If this can happen, it would be nice as some of the patterns are so specific to the different communities,” Semchuk said. “It is an honour to bring these moccasins home to the Meadow Lake Tribal Council. I am grateful to the tribal council for taking on the responsibility for giving them life and purpose again. Given the kind of divide we have between First Nations and settler people across the whole country and the divide I grew up with in Meadow Lake, to be able to offer something back to the First Nations in appreciation for the opportunity to grow up on that land is pretty special.”

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