Pikangikum’s Cheryl Suggashie was recognized for her efforts to make masks and other items for the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Since the lockdown I had more time to sew so I made masks and I made scrubs for the hospital,” says Suggashie, public legal education and communications coordinator at Nishnawbe-Aski Legal Services Corporation. “They were low on supplies at that time in early COVID-19 so I donated a bunch to them and they sent me a thank you letter, which was pretty cool.”
Suggashie says it felt good to serve the community during a time of need.
“On the one hand it’s good to serve your community but on the other hand it should be free for everyone,” Suggashie says. “Sometimes I do sell them if there is a big demand. After I started posting them, I had a lot of requests for masks with Navajo prints and Indigenous prints. Sometimes I gave (masks) to them if it was a nurse. Or security guards at Mishkeegomang, they needed masks so I just shipped them for free.”
Suggashie says she created her own mask design after trying out different types of designs.
“Some patterns are a bit more complicated and required a bunch of supplies and materials, but I just had to use what I had,” Suggashie says. “At that time all the shops were closed down. They’re still low on supplies so I just had to use up what I had.”
Suggashie says she had a good response to her masks over the summer.
“I still get requests once in a while for children when school started,” Suggashie says. “I made a whole bunch of children masks in September.”
Suggashie says she usually helps people without masks by giving them one when they need to go into a store or public building.
“It’s just so sad to see, especially with the youth,” Suggashie says. “I see them going into stores using their sweaters as masks or whatever they have.”
Suggashie usually uses her sewing skills and materials to create jingle dresses and other regalia pieces. She facilitated the first two annual Welcoming of Dennis Franklin Cromarty First Nations High School Jingle Dress Dancers events in Thunder Bay.
“One of the teachings I got for jingle dresses is when you have scrap material, don’t throw it away — you’ve got to use it some how so I used a lot of that for masks because they’re smaller,” Suggashie says. “So I used up all my small pieces, which is great.”
Suggashie began making regalia after seeing different regalia designs in southern Ontario, noting that her family members are big sewers who make their own dresses, coats, curtains and other items.
“I just wondered: ‘Can I make one of those,’” Suggashie says. “So I started from there and then just intertwined my regalia with skirts and bonnets, because bonnets were still a big hit in my family.”
Suggashie made bonnets this past summer for people who wanted to protect their newborn babies from mosquitos.
“Those were big in demand this year because the mosquitos were bad up north,” Suggashie says.
Suggashie also noticed that the kokum scarves were a big item this year, so she made masks, baby bonnets and kokum skirts from the scarves.
“Those were a really big hit,” Suggashie says.
Suggashie says her long-term goal is to open her own space to share her skills in Thunder Bay.
“I do this (sewing) in my spare time, the weekends,” Suggashie says. “I love doing it, it’s not a chore for me, I love designing, I love sewing, I love creating and just working with the materials.”