|A two-tone buffalo hide drum is one of Brenda Mercer's favourite creations. She feels it is a reflection of her life, having been born to an Indigenous mother but raised by a non-Indigenous family, only to reconnect with her heritage later in life|
Stitch by stitch, Brenda Mercer brings people together in an act of reconciliation, healing and acknowledgement of Indigenous crafting tradition.
Mercer, the cultural co-ordinator at the Miywasin Friendship Centre and founder of White Horse Rider Co., enjoys sharing her passion for creating handmade Indigenous items, such as drums, rattles, earrings, keepsake pouches and more. She regularly teaches crafting at the Miywasin Centre and around the city. She has also been featured in shows like the Tongue on the Post Folk Music Festival and at the local TREX Space.
Mercer, who was removed from her birth mother and raised by a non-Indigenous family as part of the 60s Scoop, is entirely self-taught in the art of Indigenous crafting. She began learning in her 20s as a way to connect with her Indigenous heritage.
“I just needed to learn more about my culture,” Mercer told the News. “I think if you’re not raised in your culture, you have that yearning. You want to know, ‘Where am I from?'”
Not only is crafting a way to connect with a culture she was removed from, it also acts as a form of healing for Mercer, who was one of five Indigenous children in her Saskatchewan hometown, and as a result faced prejudice from certain non-Indigenous peers and town residents.
“It’s really brought a lot of healing to me because it was so hard being a 60s Scooper,” Mercer said.”Because I was raised in both worlds, I really believe (crafting) is a bridge and a connector.”
While Mercer is often considered a local expert on Indigenous crafts, she admits she is still learning about the crafting processes and the significance of each item.
“It’s a lot by trial and error when you don’t have people to teach you,” she said, “I started making drums, probably 15 years ago. I really liked it. I knew I wanted to do more, but when we did the drums, we didn’t get any teachings, it was just, make a drum. So I didn’t know what it symbolized or what it meant.”
Through her own journey to learn, Mercer realized she enjoyed sharing her knowledge with others and finds crafting and art-making are a non-threatening and inviting way to spark conversations about healing and reconciliation.
“Some of the best conversations I’ve had at Miywasin crafting is when we’re looking down (while working) and then you don’t feel like you have to look up, you can just talk and you make that connection and talk about some deep things,” she said. “We all need to connect as people more.”
Since she first started sharing her knowledge Mercer has noticed an increase in the number of people who wish to learn and listen, particularly non-Indigenous people.
“I see a lot more people wanting to engage,” she said. “I think it really started after the 215 (Indigenous children’s graves were unearthed at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops).”
Mercer is happy to see the increased engagement and hopes as more people learn of Indigenous crafting and artistry traditions, more will begin taking part.
“I think it’s important because I want to teach my kids and my grandkids, because if not, it stops here. It would be really nice to keep that tradition,” she said.
In an effort to stay true to the traditional crafting processes, Mercer usually uses materials purchased from Indigenous-owned stores, such as sinew and wild hides, but encourages creativity when it comes to using the items, as believes each item made is both a reflection of the individual making it and a connection to the Indigenous peoples long passed.
“Each person can create their own. I can guide them and then they can add whatever they want,” she said.
For Mercer, the most important feature of her creations is love.
“Everything I make, I make with love and good intentions,” she said. “I like the element of surprise. I go to Superstore sometimes, I’ll be in the line with somebody in front of me and I’ll go ‘Oh my goodness, I love your hair.’ I know, they’ve got 30 seconds before they check out, so I’ll pull some earrings out of my bag and I go ‘I want to gift you these earrings. I made them with all my love and best intentions.'”
While Mercer does sell her items online at the White Horse Rider Co., Etsy store, she still prefers to gift them out.
“I really like gifting people part of our culture,” she said.
For more information about Indigenous crafting and artistry, healing or reconciliation, Mercer invites Hatters to come to the Miywasin Centre or connect with her via phone at 403-878-5548.