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Why I’m not just rocking my mocs, but making them

CBC Indigenous journalist Jessica Deer never had a pair of moccasins until she made her own this summer.

These are the first pair of moccasins I made, but they won’t be my last. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

I sewed my first pair of moccasins this summer.

It was kind of a big deal. I’ve never had a pair before. 

I’m Kanien’kehá:ka from Kahnawake, Que., and the moccasins you’ll see people rocking around here are adorned with velveteen, ribbon, and a style of beadwork Haudenosaunee are known for: raised beadwork.

Raised beadwork is a stunning art form that dates back to the mid-19th century, and gives the final design a 3D look. Today, you see these designs incorporated into our regalia, including moccasins. 

Work-in progress on the vamps. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

For a long time, I felt ashamed for not having a pair.

I felt ashamed for not having them at my high school graduation or university convocation.

I felt ashamed when events like Rock Your Mocs rolled around each year.

I felt ashamed for not knowing how to make my own.

I felt ashamed for not being able to afford to get a pair commissioned by my community’s master bead artists.

I felt ashamed for feeling like I lacked the commitment to sign up for high-in-demand workshops that occur in my community. 

I want people to understand that even First Nations people who grow up in their communities can still face barriers when it comes to accessing cultural knowledge and teachings.

There are a mix of external factors, but can also be internal. I was fortunate enough to learn the basics of this style as a child in elementary school, but I hadn’t threaded a needle in well over a decade. I lacked the confidence to even try or ask for help — until this year.

These are the mukluks I made by taking the workshop with Alley Yapput. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

In January, I signed up for an intensive five-day workshop to learn how to make mukluks. It was taught by Alley Yapput, a two-spirit Ojibway and Cree artist. I don’t think I ever want to sew that much leather by hand again in my life, but Yapput’s workshop gave me the confidence to get back into beadwork and try to make the contemporary style of moccasins that Haudenosaunee wear.

So, that’s what I spent my summer doing. 

These baby mocs were gifted to my cousin earlier this month. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

After a lot of hard work and needle pricks, I have a pair that I can wear with pride. And so do some of my family members. I’m working on a third pair right now for a Christmas gift, and will continue to make more in the future. 

I still have a long way to go when it comes to improving my skills, but I just hope these gifted moccasins bring some pride to the people in my life so that they don’t have to experience any sort of shame about what’s on their feet. 

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