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Yukon Sewing Students Take Cultural Field Trip to Sami Communities in Finland, Norway

A group of women from Mayo, Yukon, are in northern Europe — in the traditional territory of the Indigenous Sami people — as part of a cultural exchange sewing together both local and pan-northern connections. 

“The amount of support we have felt all throughout our community — through our fundraising efforts, through people bending over backwards to make sure that we have permits to take lynx-fur pompoms with us — the support for this has truly showed me what Mayo is all about,” said Sandy Washburn, the community adult education coordinator at the Mayo campus of Yukon University.   

Washburn is leading the group and the other four participants are former students of various sewing courses offered in Mayo over the last few years, including First Nations arts and garment-making programs.

The 18-day trip will take the group to Inari, Finland, and Kautokenio, Norway, where they’ll visit educational and cultural institutes to learn about and experience Sami culture.

The group’s first stop this week is at the Sami Education Institute in Finland, a vocational college with a focus on developing the Arctic regions and its people. Washburn said she is eager to exchange perspectives with her counterparts about teaching in rural areas of the North. 

Developing passion and excitement in students is key for Washburn in the programming she develops.

“We often call them ‘skills for employment’ programs but really, I feel like my focus is on trying to just get people engaged in post-secondary education and any type of further learning,” she said.

Washburn said programs like the sewing courses add a lot of value to people’s lives both in and out of the classroom by building relationships. 

“I’ve learned a lot, I’ve gained a lot of experience,” Erin Profeit, who’s part of the trip, told CBC just before flying out of Whitehorse. Profeit says the opportunity to learn sewing and beading came at the right time in her life and has had a huge positive impact.

“I hope to keep going and keep making jackets and starting maybe my own business and just go on with that,” she said.

Profeit, who is from the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun First Nation, says the entire group is eager to learn from the Sami. The visit coincides with the reindeer harvest and Profeit says she’s curious to see any similarities and differences in working with animal hides and antlers. 

Dealing with grief

Profeit is also eager to share the experience with her classmates. Together, they have been through a lot. The substance abuse crisis has rocked the small, rural community of Mayo where the total population is about 450. The First Nation’s chief and council passed a resolution in mid-March declaring a state of emergency related to opioids, just days after a double homicide in the community. That declaration ended in June.

“It’s still raw,” said Profeit, “It’s gonna be a long time before we heal, we’ll need the whole community to get on board, to heal, so it’ll be awhile, I think.” 

As the community struggled with overwhelming grief, the sewing program was a place to turn. 

 “We all got together and it was just positive. We’re all a lot closer,” said Profeit. 

When the suffering was at its peak, Washburn says, the sewing group provided strength. 

“That group of women came together in the backroom and the laughter that would happen, it blew my mind, the fact that so much was going on, but they came to us, they came to school every single day. They showed up. They shared. They cared. They wrapped around support for each other and I do believe to some extent that some of the individuals from that program may not have been able to get through that time,” said Washburn.

Now, for Washburn, this trip to visit the Sami is a sign of that strength and hope. She hopes together they will learn and share that learning when they return.

“By us going this far and taking this adventure, it will inspire others who are kind of just not sure what they want to do, to just take that first step and join that program in whatever community they are in, that they think maybe might be interesting,” said Washburn.

“Because you just truly never know where it’s going to lead.”

Source : CBC

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