(GATINEAU, December 18) – Many Indigenous people who do not identify as Christian still decorate a tree at this time of year, says an archaeologist employed by the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC).
And, thanks to a resurgence of crafting among First Nations, Métis, and Inuit women, the holiday trees in many homes are taking on a truly Indigenous flare.
At the Resiliency Lodge, established by the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), a large tree is adorned with traditional Indigenous decorations. They were curated by Ramona Nicholas, an archeologist on NWAC’s staff who is also an Elder and a traditional knowledge holder.
“They are like the pieces that were handed down from my grandmother to my mother to me. And now I’m handing them down to my kids and my grandkids,” says Nicholas. “They are pieces like the ones we made together. My mother was very creative and artistic.”
Not long ago, it was difficult to find Indigenous ornaments. But because so many First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people are returning to traditional crafting, tree decorations that reflect their cultures can now be found in abundance.
NWAC is helping to promote this resurgence with a Maker’s’ Space located at the Resiliency Lodge that has been equipped with the tools and materials required for a wide variety of traditional crafts. The hope is to recreate these Makers’ Spaces in communities across Canada, says NWAC CEO Lynne Groulx.
The COVID-19 pandemic means the workshops that would have taken place at the lodge are now being held online. NWAC sends out starter kits of beads and other materials to Indigenous women who request them.
Two thirds of Canada’s Indigenous people identify as Christian. Others have turned to a more traditional spiritual path.
Although she does not celebrate Christmas herself, Nicholas, who is Wolastokiyik from New Brunswick, says she loves having a Christmas tree in her house. “It just brings a sense of bringing something beautiful inside,” she said.
Ancient peoples have long attached sacred meaning to plants that remain green all winter. Some placed them over doors and windows to ward off evil spirits, says Nicholas.
In that way, Christmas trees, which are a German custom, echo ancient traditions that were practiced both in Europe and North America.
Nicholas and her family gather on December 21 to celebrate the Solstice which, she says, is a time that Indigenous people all over the world offer gratitude, honour family and ancestors, and follow ritual observations. Festivals of regeneration related to the Solstice predate recorded history.
For Nicholas, celebrating the Solstice is a way of avoiding the consumerism that has become attached to Christmas. She gives her children, who are now adults, gifts but only those that are handmade.
“I remember when my grandmother and my mom were young, and how Christmas to them was a magical time of year,” she says. “Because it was a time when they knew that they were going to be able to get together with family.”