Crafting the Native American way

Cultural crafts a Sawyer Community Center activity

Leather pouches are one of the crafts being made Thursday in a Native American Crafts session at the K.I. Sawyer Community Center. The event was sponsored by the K.I. Sawyer Health & Wellness Coalition in partnership with the Sault Tribe Youth, Education & Activities Program. From left are Ryaynna Jarvey, 12; her sister, Rakyah, 16; and McKenna Vanderlinden, 11, all of Gladstone. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)


Journal Staff Writer

K.I. SAWYER — A little bit of culture came to the K.I. Sawyer Community Center Thursday by way of youngsters making special crafts.

An activity called “Native American Crafts” allowed kids to make ankle bells and leather tobacco pouches with the help of facilitators from the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

The event was sponsored by the K.I. Sawyer Health & Wellness Coalition in partnership with the Sault Tribe Youth, Education & Activities Program.

Kelly Constantino, youth service coordinator with the Sault Tribe, helped lead Thursday’s activities along with her assistant, Tess Brazeau of the YEA Program.

The two are based at the Sault Tribe reservation in Escanaba.

Although the pouches’ traditional use is for carrying tobacco as an offering, that doesn’t mean the youngsters had to use them that way. The purpose of the activity was to instill a little historical knowledge of the crafts.

For example, ankle bells would be worn at a powwow, Constantino said.

“The powwow, in competition, they would know the sound of each bell, if they’re on the right spot or at that time when they’re supposed to be dancing with their foot,” said Constantino, who noted wearers of ankle bells at powwows also will crunch down in an “attack” mode.

The crafts have an educational purpose as well.

“These are going to be used in cultural teachings in schools and at powwows and such,” Constantino said. “They’ll take this pouch, but then they can bring that back to school so they can do a teaching at the school.”

Symbolism was taught as well, with a sheet depicting various Native American symbols for certain words that could be used to create short sentences.

“They’re going to draw on their pouch and decorate it with what they want to make a story out of this,” Constantino said.

For example, “I love eagles” could be one mini-story.

“Because of the heart and the eagle, it’s that easy to do,” she said.

The crafts might have looked easy to make at first, but the youngsters definitely needed help with things like threading the cord through the holes in the ankle straps.

“It took awhile,” said Cole Gould, 13, of Gladstone, who focused intently on making the ankle bells.

The sound of those bells resembled a Christmas sleigh ride.

“I made a pair for a door hanger or a door knob to alert when somebody’s coming in at Christmas,” Brazeau said.

The YEA Program consists of three components — academic, cultural and leadership — along with other services such as transportation. Most activities are free, especially to low-income families.

For more information on the YEA Program, visit

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is