Revitalizing Traditions in Education: Hannah Vicaire’s Journey of Cultural Preservation

indigenous ribbon skirt

In the vibrant tapestry of Canada’s Indigenous communities, few threads are as colourful as the ribbon skirts made by Hannah Vicaire, a Mi’gmaq woman from Listuguj, Quebec. As an employee of the Legacy of Hope Foundation (LHF), she has been instrumental in preserving and revitalizing traditions from Mi’gmaq practices. Starting her journey at the age of 19, Hannah has dedicated her career to reviving traditional practices, including the art of ribbon skirt making, which she learned under the guidance of a revered Elder.

Vicaire’s connection to traditional crafts began in childhood, heavily influenced by her grandmother, Theresa Wilmot, a respected pipe carrier in their community, who taught her the foundational sewing skills she would later amplify. As part of her education on the reserve, Hannah was able to attend culture classes at school that cultivated skills in traditional practices like beading and sewing.

“Going to school on the reserve encouraged integrated ways of being, where learning and cultural practices weren’t two different things. It connected us with the intricate use of our hands – something we’ve always had in our culture” Hannah says.

Learning from Elders was also encouraged, and Hannah’s grandmother was invited into her school to support the students.

“She was a grandparent to everybody, and she always got what she wanted- which was to help others. She was like a bird; you couldn’t bring her down.”

Hannah recalls travelling to Pow Wow’s with her siblings in her grandmother’s big purple van and feeling a strong connection to her Mi’gmaq heritage.

“But when she passed, everything stopped. She was the glue,” Hannah describes.

Years later, Teresa Edwards, a friend of her grandmother’s, a Knowledge Keeper in Training in the community, and Executive Director and In-house Legal Counsel at the LHF said to Hannah after she was hired as a Community Engagement Officer – “tell me what you want to do.” A part of Hannah knew that getting back into cultural practices was her passion, and the invitation from a community leader to help usher in this bold move changed everything for her.

She has since reconnected with Pow Wows and has traveled extensively across Canada for the LHF leading Cultural Revitalization Workshops that teach more than just ribbon skirt-making and craftsmanship. These workshops are pivotal in passing down cherished Traditional Knowledge and practices, stories and laughter and connecting people, all helping to strengthen community ties and reinforce cultural pride among participants.

Challenges and Rewards of Cultural Engagement

The path to cultural reclamation comes with many challenges, and Hannah speaks candidly about these in her workshops. One of the primary concerns is the erosion of traditional practices, compounded by the modern world’s distractions and the diminishing number of Elders who hold this precious knowledge. In the non-Indigenous education system, culture classes are not offered, and both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students suffer consequently. According to Hannah,

“Indigenous topics are uncomfortable to talk about because no one is talking about them.”

She offers three recommendations to strengthen cultural inclusion for non-Indigenous schools.

  1. Embed culture classes into the curriculum.
  2. Develop extracurricular cultural offerings at non-Indigenous schools.
  3. Create paid co-op placements within Indigenous communities.

Hannah envisions a future where traditional ways of being and working are not merely artifacts of history but vibrant elements of daily life. Her dream is that through continued education and engagement, these traditions will flourish and be embraced by new generations.

Community Response

The feedback from the community underscores the impact of her efforts. The LHF workshops are described as transformative experiences that not only teach practical skills but also help individuals forge a stronger connection with their roots. In her reflections, Hannah mentions the joy and satisfaction derived from her work. The process of teaching, she notes, is reciprocal; with each class she leads, she also learns—gaining insights from participants’ experiences and the collective wisdom of the community.

Now, Hannah’s efforts extend beyond the Mi’gmaq communities. She actively seeks opportunities to engage broader audiences, believing that awareness and respect for Indigenous cultures can grow through education and open dialogue. Her workshops often attract a diverse group of participants, including non-Indigenous people interested in learning about and supporting Indigenous cultures as allies.

Hannah Vicaire’s work with the Legacy of Hope Foundation is a beacon of cultural pride and resilience and thriving, a testament to the enduring spirit of the Mi’gmaq people. As she continues to work for LHF and teach, Hannah is not just helping to preserve traditional skills; she is ensuring that the fabric of Mi’gmaq culture remains vibrant and integral to the identity of future generations.

 

by: Michelle Spink

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