Mary Michell (center) and Matthew Michell (right). (Submitted)

Celebrating the life of indigenous artist Mary Michell

Michell’s beaded jacket had even found its way to Trudeau

© 2018 Lakes District Museum Society

Mary Michell was a Lake Babine Nation elder. She grew up in Old Fort, a small community 30 km northwest of Granisle on Babine Lake.

“I used to smoke fish and dry moose meat,” she said. “Lots of things we made our own. There was no electricity at Old Fort. We used gas lamps and a cook stove with wood.”

Mary learned traditional indigenous beading while still a teenager. It was an art form she continued to practice for more than 69 years. “I was 13 when I started,” she explained. “My mom taught me how to do it.”

Mary wed Mathew Michell and moved to Donald’s Landing on Babine Lake, where she made dresses, jackets, vests, purses, mukluks, gloves, and moccasins, often working 14 hour per day. In later years, all her work was made for celebrities. She made a beaded jacket for Chief Edward John, who later gifted it to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “I had outgrown it,” John told Mary after taking off the jacket and presenting it to Trudeau.

On July 2, 2008, Mary received a Creative Lifetime Achievement Award for her indigenous artwork. She died in July 2017 at the age of 91.

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