February 6, 2020
In Jean Marie River, Lucy Jane Simon fills a pot with cranberries and water and puts it on the stove in her kitchen. She boils the concoction until it creates a brilliant red dye, then soaks moose hairs, collected by hand from the rump area of a moose hide, until they pick up the colour.
Later, when the hairs are dried and ready to use, Lucy takes small bundles of it and secures them to a tanned hide using a needle and thread. Around her, guests of her B&B, watch spellbound as she expertly transforms the hairs into a work of art. She works nimbly and trims the hairs down until the petals of a flower are visible in the design. Her guests ask questions, touch the hairs and gently run their fingers over the newly formed tufting.
“I’ve been running my B&B for 30 years and visitors always come and sit with me to see what I’m making. They’re usually amazed at how I can attach the moose hair to material and trim it,” she says. It’s a skill that Lucy has been honing since the age of nine, when her grandmother, Adeline Sabourin, taught her.
“[Tufting] was booming about 30 years ago and then it just kind of died off,” she explains. “Now, we’re trying to revive it. Myself and Louisa Moreau from Fort Simpson have been taking turns teaching it and it’s really picking up.”
Visitors to the NWT have been increasing steadily and the demand for cultural products and experiences is notable. In fact, the number of tour operators offering authentic Indigenous cultural experiences has increased by nearly 94% over the last five years.
Gift shops and galleries throughout the NWT are stocked with handmade moccasins, mukluks, birchbark baskets, wall hangings and much more. Those special pieces stun visitors from around the world and with each purchase; more locals are encouraged to pick up the skills.
Asked if the increased demand from tourists contributes to cultural preservation, Lucy replies “Of course!”
Fortunately, people like Lucy are happy to share their knowledge. “We’re trying to get kids to learn it in school. It turns out there is a lot of interest among our younger people. Teachers often ask me to come in and show them. They find it hard but in the end they’re proud. They’ll make a brooch or a hairpin and give it as a gift. I hope that young parents will continue on with what we’re doing.”
Lucy’s skills are in high demand and she often does demonstrations at the Open Sky Festival as well as workshops for nurses, doctors and RCMP who are new to the Dehcho Region and interested in spending their evenings learning cultural traditions.
Whether she’s educating children, visitors, business travellers, festival-goers or new professionals working in the region, Lucy believes that her skills are in her to share. As her hands mimic the actions her grandmother taught her long ago, she is preserving and promoting an art form deeply instilled in her culture.
We know that the tourism industry creates jobs and a healthier economy, but what about the not-so-obvious benefits? #ValueOfTourismNWT is a series highlighting the ways the tourism industry contributes to our communities that can often be overlooked.
From tourism facilities and services that locals can also enjoy, to cultural preservation and community wellness, there are countless ways the territory’s growing tourism industry benefits locals. Follow the series to learn more.