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Crafting sustained interest

Jumbo motivating others to learn birch-bark techniques

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Fort Liard (Aug 16/02) - The enthusiasm was unmistakable in Alma Jumbo's voice as she described the successful birch-bark craft making workshop she led in Fort Liard for three weeks.

NNSL Photo

Alma Jumbo led a three-week, birch-bark craft making workshop in Fort Liard in late July and early August. She is hoping to keep the art alive by inspiring youth to get involved. - Derek Neary/NNSL photo

In total, close to 50 people took part, making either a miniature canoe, a basket or a funnel-shaped moose call.

"We had a lot of fun," she said. "I really liked it, showing what I know. I really liked it."

To begin the seminar, participants went into the woods to procure their own materials. The best birch is off-white and flexible, Jumbo said. Organic materials such as porcupine quills and spruce root and natural tools such an awl made from moose bone were used in place of commercial products.

She also had elders explain the traditional uses for birch-bark baskets, bowls and cups.

With industry attracting so many workers from the community, including women, Jumbo said she is concerned that time-honoured crafts could one day be forgotten.

"Why we had this workshop was to get people to keep making baskets for the craft shop ... we used to have lots of producers here but not now, especially since oil and gas came around," she said, adding that the focus was on children and teenagers, the next generation of craft producers. She also gave advice on marketing and selling crafts. She gleaned her business know-how from consultant Suzan Marie and Fort Liard economic development officer Michael Pealow, she noted.

"The craft shop pays quite well," she said, noting that one young workshop participant fetched $45 from the craft shop for his birch-bark basket. "He was so happy."

Jumbo, who is originally from Trout Lake, is planning to exhibit her skills at the Great Northern Arts Festival in Inuvik next summer.

It was her mother-in-law, Martine, who got her started in birch-bark crafts 12 years ago. Her interest has grown ever since.

"I want to do weaving with willow, making little chairs and stuff," she said.