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Reclaiming their history: Three Manitoba women keeping their culture alive through language, art

Marjorie Dowhos

Sept 30, 2021

Pat Bruderer is preserving one of the rarest forms of Indigenous art. 

Pat Bruderer is preserving one of the rarest forms of Indigenous art. 

Birch bark biting involves delicately biting on a thin layer of bark, peeled from a birch tree, to create a symmetrical design. It dates back hundreds of years and was done to record Indigenous stories, ceremonies, and art.

Bruderer, who also goes by the name of Halfmoon Woman, is a self-taught artist who was inspired by the work of Angelique Merasty, another birch bark biting artist, whom she first met almost 30 years ago at the Thompson Friendship Centre.

"That's the first time I've seen birch bark biting," said Bruderer, who now lives in B.C. but was born and raised in Churchill, Man., and is a member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Saskatchewan.

"I never knew that a few years later I would teach myself."

VIDEOBiting into tradition: Elementary school students learn Cree art of birch bark biting

Bruderer is now part of a small group of Indigenous artists currently practising the art form. She believes birch bark biting became lost or hidden due to residential schools and colonization.

"The first time I seen it I was so surprised. I thought, 'How come I never knew about this?'"

Cree artist Pat Bruderer says birch bark biting has helped her with healing because it forces her mind to focus. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Bruderer says creating art is healing and has helped her overcome trauma in her life.

"Some of my family did attend residential school. My mom was kept in one place that was not really good, and she never talked about a lot of things. A lot of our things were lost. A lot of things weren't passed on."

Now she says it's her mission to ensure her children and future generations learn the art.

"It's really important to pass it down to First Nations children because it's important for them to remember we have all kinds of art that can't be forgotten about," she said.

"It was really important for me to be able to pass it forward because when we look at things, we're supposed to pass it forward seven generations."

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