NS380 The Porcupine Goes to the City: Quilling Teachings

The Faculty of Native Studies teamed up with renowned Métis artist and Edmonton’s current Indigenous Artist in Residence, MJ Belcourt Moses to create an urban land-based learning course NS380 The Porcupine Goes to the City: Quillwork Teachings, Spring 2019. Beyond learning the steps of quilling, the course places the Nêhiyaw (Cree) and Otipemisiwak (Métis) concept of wâhkôhtowin at the centre of quillwork.


IMG_0726MJ began with introductions, her love of teaching and how she came to quillwork and tanning teachings through the late Elsie Quintel. After a smudge and tobacco offering, MJ brought the students through the first steps. For these three porcupines, these steps included salting to preserve them, skinning, and nailing to a board so you could remove the guard and down hairs from the hide. From there, the quills needed to be removed and separated from the fluffy down hairs. That job takes a lot of care and patience. The students jumped right in, worked together, and tried not to get poked by the quills. If you do get a quill in your skin, pull it straight out, and make sure the barb is still attached to the quill. MJ told stories and guided students through the process. You want to grab the quills from their tip and remove them in the direction they’re pointing, being careful not to bend the quills. If you do bend the quills, you can damage the inner “marrow” which is what makes the quill pliable for quillwork.

MJ demos pulling guard hairsElders and knowledge keepers emphasize the importance of regaining Indigenous teachings for the benefit of families and communities, the core element in the Nêhiyaw concept of wâhkôhtowin. According to Nêhiyaw scholar Sylvia McAdams, the process of rebuilding Indigenous nationhood requires the return of gifts given to the Nêhiyawak from Creator (McAdam, p. 83). These gifts include cosmologies and world views as expressed through philosophical concepts such as wâhkôhtowin, which is the complex cosmology of Nêhiyaw kinship and well-being. While Nêhiyaw and Otipemisiwak scholars such as Sylvia McAdam, Brenda Macdougall, Adam Gaudry, and others explore the role of wâhkôhtowin within Indigenous studies, the revitalization of teachings is a complex process due to hundreds of years of colonization, of assimilation policies (such as the Indian Act and residential schools) and the fragmentation of Indigenous societies (urbanization, 60s scoop, etc.).

IMG_0746Indigenous Women and Youth Resilience Project teamed up with the Rupertsland Centre for Métis Research to develop urban land-based learning to give students a chance to experience hands-on learning within an urban context. It’s true that you miss so much of what makes land-based learning unique. Learning to live on the land, chopping wood, building and cooking over a fire, etc which makes the learning experience fully embodied and consuming. The Faculty of Native Studies does offer land-based learning opportunities to check out including: NS 403/NS 503/LAW 599 – The ᐘᐦᑯᐦᑐᐏᐣ wahkohtowin Project Intensive: ᒥᔪ ᐑᒉᐦᑐᐏᐣ miyo-wîcêhtowin  Principles and Practice.

This Porcupine Quilling course is a unique opportunity to bring land-based to an urban context and engage with the principals of wâhkôhtowin within a Faculty of Native Studies course. Ekosi.

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