Growing up wearing moccasins and seeing every member of her family make them was the norm for Amy Jerome, so when she moved away from her reserve and wanted a pair for herself she decided to learn for herself rather than buy them.
Coming from a family of artistically inclined people, Jerome felt she didn’t have the same creativity her siblings naturally had and had to work at it, which is why it took her a long time to start making her own moccasins.
With free time and a hunger for a hobby to fill up her time, Jerome decided to try her hand at making moccasins because it wasn’t in the budget to buy a pair.
Calling up her mother, aunts and cousins for help Jerome spent hours over the phone, and zoom calls to learn the process. But after a few trials and errors, she was able to teach herself to make them and from there she went on to make pairs for her kids, nieces and nephews until she ran out of feet to make for.
“I was finally able to make my very first pair and like now they’ve got two holes in them. But I love the holes in my shoes. Because I know that I’m wearing them. I’m appreciating the work that I put on my feet,” she said.
The process of making the moccasins has been a time of self-discovery and learning about herself and what she can do, she said. “We’re all living in fast forward so making moccasins has definitely slowed me down and just kind of given me more patience with a lot of things and it allowed me to trust myself,” said Jerome.
Jerome said, when she would do any beading work on the fabric, she would always second guess herself only to be surprised at how it turns out.
So it allowed her to get out of her head and trust the process.
“It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it looks perfect the way it is,” she said.
Learning to make this traditional footwear as a mother has also allowed her to pass down lessons she’s learned from her family to her own children.
She’s taught her kids that just because their moccasins have holes doesn’t mean they need to be thrown out, and the idea that anything can be repaired and reused.
While sitting down in her Shawville home, Jerome pointed to a special piece she was altering. She pointed to a pair made by her great -great-grandmother for Jerome’s dad.
“This year it’s finally my turn to take a crack at it. I’m really nervous because so many amazing people have already touched them, altered them and done so many things to them that it’s like I’m adding my piece of the story into those shoes,” she said.
Jerome moved to Shawville in 2013, she particularly liked the region because it was a predominantly English-speaking area and felt like she could plant her roots here. “It was like a new horizon has happened for me. And I moved here,” she said.
After she moved she took an accounting program at the Continuing Education Centre in Shawville which is what led her to get her job as an executive assistant to the director of the Indigenous science lesion office, for Agriculture Canada.
Jerome moved from Maniwaki in search of a life without the constant prejudice of being an Indigenous woman, she said. She explained there was a lot of racism in that area and the best thing she could do was move away. “I wanted better for myself, so I took my kids and we moved from Maniwaki to Shawville.
Realizing making moccasins brought her so much peace, in 2022 she took the step to branch out and start making them for other people. The process was calming, it gave her confidence and she thought stopping wasn’t an option.
All the materials she gets are from Indigenous-owned businesses. She gets her beads from the Canadian bead supply in Ottawa, the leather is from Tribal Spirit Music located in Quebec, and all her fabric is from Algonquin Textiles in Maniwaki.
“I grew up with a strong belief that you don’t waste anything because the closest anything like a gas station, store or hospital is about two hours away.” On the reserve, she saw how her community hunted and harvested moose and used every bit of it leaving nothing behind and that concept always stayed with her, she said.
The moccasin is made with different variations of material, Jerome explained. She uses felt as the base because it’s super warm and then from there she uses moose leather as the exterior material as it is a durable fabric. The fur is added for extra warmth, and the beading is for design. In the winter they would put rabbit fur on the inside for extra warmth because it is also sweatproof. To make it 100 per cent waterproof they also add bear fat on the leather which adds an extra protective layer.
One of her biggest role models is her great-grandmother, Lina Jerome, who passed away at the age of 94. She was a major figure in the community and she watched her make them growing up. She admired her for her strength and resilience. “She was my favourite person,” she said.
After her great-grandmother passed away their community felt her loss and the legacy she left behind, she added. “She’s got really big shoes to fill.”
Jerome highlighted that moccasins are great because they are durable and have longevity and for her, they also serve as a way to keep her close to mother nature. She loves how wearing them protects your feet but still gives you the sense of walking barefoot on the soil while allowing the energy of the earth to run through her, she added.
“So if I’m having a hard day, I will sit outside and touch the grass because I feel closer to the grass. I wear my shoes because I’m closer to the ground,” said Jerome.
Because it was so common growing up she never appreciated all the effort that went into making moccasins, as an adult and being away from her commuunity she realized how special it was and all the effort and time that went into making them, she said.
“You just kind of have to unappreciate it first before you can appreciate it.”
Her current product line is moccasins and mukluks for kids and adults, with prices ranging from $40 to $150. For orders or questions about purchasing them, people can contact Jerome by texting 819-744-0092 or find her on Facebook www.facebook.com/amy.jerome.9.
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