Marvellous moccasin making
Dancer costumes get lift from WABDS

Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

INUVIK (Aug 14/98) - Ruby McLeod has been making clothing for the Gwich'in traditional dancing group, the East Three Reelers for 13 years.

"When I started I had seven pairs of slippers of my own," she says, standing next to a table covered in her work and touching a moccasin whose hole she has darned with moose hide.

McLeod also makes vests, belts and adds embroidery to parkas.

With the East Three Reelers, the 63-year-old energetic grandmother not only makes some of their costumes, but helps bring the beat to dancers, aged seven through 18. She teaches how to jig and get into the music while tapping into traditional culture.

The group performs different kinds of traditional dancing including the duck dance, the Red River jig, the brandy dance and the handkerchief dance at arts festivals and events such as the Inuvik Regional Hospital annual general meeting in September.

McLeod also takes some of the dancers to her fish camp, shows them how to cut dry fish and tells stories about how she was raised.

McLeod has received help and donations from places such as the Gwich'in Tribal Council and the group's clothing has also been made by Inuvik residents such as Cece Hodgson McCauley and Liz Crawford Hansen.

When McLeod could not afford moose hide for her slippers, she found help at Western Arctic Business Development Services.

"There are plenty of people out there who have wonderful ideas and certain passions for things," says WABDS economic development officer Dennis Zimmerman who helped McLeod secure funding for more moose hide.

"And I'm hoping that those things, with a little bit of assistance and just listening to them, those ideas can turn into small businesses."

Zimmerman says he ran into McLeod at Ingamo Hall where WABDS has started to focus its outreach program to provide free confidential business counselling to people.

"Sometimes when you sit in the office you feel like you're not helping the people who really need to be helped and who maybe are too proud to come in the office or who don't know where we are," he said.

Zimmerman said the objective is not to just go out there and start small businesses because successful small businesses take thought, funding and lots of planning.

Still, for many who work at jobs where they make a lot of money but are unhappy, Zimmerman said they may prefer working for themselves even if they do not make much money the first year.

Making slippers is something McLeod likes to do but she has no intention of making a large enterprise of it.

"I never hardly sell any. I make use of all I have," she says.