Red Dress Pin Making Workshop: An Afternoon of Healing and Art Therapy

Submitted by Shauna Kennedy

A Red Dress Pin Making Workshop was held in May at McDougall United Church, Calgary, specifically for Indigenous participants for an afternoon of healing and art therapy. Organized by Chinook Winds Indigenous Ministries in partnership with McDougall Church, the workshop was facilitated by Certified Recovery Trauma Counsellor and renowned Regalia designer, Teresa Snow with beadwork historian Stacie Duchene

Participants spent the afternoon making Red Dress Day pins from a variety of templates and bead choices provided by Teresa. Stacie and Teresa told the group many stories related to the history of beadwork, including where beads first originated and were traded and how the art developed over time depending on what materials were available. They spoke about different game animals and how their hides and sinew were collected and used for clothing and sewing. They told how different bead patterns and colour combinations get passed down through the generations. On display were traditional materials including shells, stone, seeds, porcupine quills, animal teeth and a variety of glass and Chevron beads. Teresa emphasized that learning the history of beadwork crafting is integral to learning its techniques. 

Elder Cynthia Hunter spoke about the history of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) movement in Alberta and the recently released report, 113 Pathways to Justice: Recommendations of the Alberta Joint Working Group of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. As the workshop was held in commemoration of Red Dress Day, the tragic stories of missing and murdered women, and calls to action, were discussed among the group. Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls explains in-depth the national crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people, and how the issue is systemic and ongoing. The report has 231 individual Calls for Justice directed at governments, institutions, social service providers, industries and all Canadians.

Despite the serious nature of this content, the workshop itself was joyful and inspiring with all the women making beautiful Red Dress Pins. Some were first-time beaders and others were seasoned pros. Friendships were formed while practising this traditional art form. Lunch was served by volunteer Marilyn Agnew who prepared a delicious spread of sandwiches, fruit, vegetables, sweets and refreshments. 

Below is some of the feedback from the participants:

“I enjoyed the hospitality and the stories that were shared, most of all I enjoyed the environment just sitting and beading.” 

“Loved this workshop. I liked sitting with the ladies and listening to 

stories/traditions with the Elder.”

“I enjoyed learning to bead. It’s something I’ve always wanted to learn.
I also loved learning the history.”

“Enjoyed the stories and history”

The Red Dress Day Pin-Making Workshop was possible with the generous support of The United Church of Canada’s Embracing the Spirit grant.