CASS LAKE-Sunshiny days of powwow season were on the minds of three mothers-to-be Tuesday night as they escaped dark skies and bitter January cold for some girl time inside the Leech Lake Facilities Center in Cass Lake.
The women have been spending winter evenings sewing mommy-made makizin (moccasin) pairs for their soon-to-be new arrivals at a baby moccasin making class hosted by Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Child Abuse Prevention Coordinator Wenona Kingbird. Come summer, little feet will be stepping out in style, albeit not walking yet, adorned in adorable moccasins.
Kingbird began looking for community bonding events when she became coordinator a year ago. She said the baby moccasin idea came to her after her husband, Don, hosted a successful two-night Makazinitaagewin (moccasin game) for boys and men at the center.
"We used to visit, tell stories and learn from one another," Kingbird said. "With social media and technology, that is slowly being lost."
First time mothers Roselynn Jones of Cass Lake, Michelle Saboo of Bemidji and Nicole Northbird of Cass Lake, who is expecting her second child, attended Tuesday night's session. All three women said they plan to pass the craft on to their children.
"The class filled up fast, and there was a waiting list," Kingbird said. "It's hard to find people who know how to make moccasins."
Jones, a jingle dress dancer, beaded a traditional Ojibwe flower on the moccasins she was making which will match her regalia and a pair of moccasins she made for her mother.
"I'll probably have to switch to more traditional dancing after the baby," Jones joked. "My dress probably won't fit."
Kingbird made her one-year-old son River's moccasins out of deer hide that Don tanned and velvet. River's Ojibwe name, Makoons, means "Little Bear." Kingbird beaded blueberries on Makoons moccasins.
"Bears like blueberries, I thought it fit him," Kingbird said.
Like a family crest, beading can be representational of family and personal to the wearer. Jones and Saboo learned to bead from family members.
"I just winged it," Northbird said.
Kingbird used machine processed leather and crib sheeting for the winter class, but will be adjusting materials as classes continue. She welcomes donations of locally tanned leather for future sessions, although, she said the time and work put into the tanning process may dissuade a lot of donations. Deer and moose hide are most common.
If a dollar amount could be placed on the moccasins Kingbird's class makes, they would be about $60, but the time and energy put into sewing and beading make it difficult to arrive at a price.
"Time is what takes the longest. You can't really put a cost on that so most people usually make their own," Kingbird said.
The style of moccasin differs by tribe and climate. Moccasins made by Anishinaabe tribes in the Midwest are typically a soft-soled pucker toe design. Other styles seen in the United States can be hard or soft soled and include two piece, center seam and side seam designs.
"These are soft soled because we're woodland, whereas when you go to the plains they have a thick sole," Kingbird said.
Saboo is from the Ojibwe Bay Mills Indian Community of Michigan, where she has heard of people waterproofing their moccasins with rubber.
Kingbird said she learned moccasin making from Dewey Goodwin at Leech Lake Tribal College. She also credits Rocky Mountain of Bemidji State University's Indigenous Studies program, elder Elaine Tibbetts and artist Sarah Agaton Howes for adding to her knowledge.
Kingbird said there were five women in her winter class, and she is planning a spring session. Space is limited to eight participants per six-class session and women must be pregnant during the class. Kingbird said the intent isn't to discriminate against men. Jones, Saboo and Northbird agreed their partners wouldn't be interested in taking the class.
"The focus is for women to get out and network with other women," Kingbird said.
Women interested in joining Kingbird's next group can contact her at Wenona.Kingbird@llojibwe.org or (218) 335-8321. Classes are free with materials provided by the child abuse prevention program.
Read related article: Moccasin game gains new fame: Ojibwe tradition continues with young men in Bemidji