Photo: Billie Jean Gabriel

Melissa Victor

By Meghan Power

Originally from the Stó:lō reserve near Rosedale, outside of Chilliwack, BC, Melissa Victor moved to Calgary 15 years ago to have more access to support for her and her oldest son, who has autism. “I’ve been a jewelry maker since 2018, mostly beaded jewelry, but over the past couple of years I noticed a feeling of wanting to reconnect with my culture and learn the traditional ways of harvesting cedar and cedar weaving.

I want to be able to pass this traditional knowledge and art form on to my children, so they can also feel connected to their Indigenous roots. I also want to be able to share my knowledge with my community in Calgary.” Receiving funding through the Indigenous microgrant program offered by Calgary Arts Development gave Melisssa the opportunity to reconnect with knowledge keepers and traditional ways of her Stó:lō community.


“In August I travelled to visit the reserve in Rosedale to learn cedar harvesting and weaving from Crystal Chapman. My goal was to learn how to weave a traditional Stó:lō cedar hat and also to weave 13 pairs of cedar shoes with the cedar I would harvest. The cedar shoes are a healing medicine and a memorial for the lives and spirits of the children who died in the residential school system and will help their spirits heal as they travel in the spirit world.”


As Melissa embarked on this journey, she  initially felt nervous: “For the entire drive to Rosedale, I was feeling a lot of anxiety around whether this was what I should be doing. I was nervous about making mistakes and about feeling like I didn’t belong. As I was driving, I became aware of the smell of sage, and noticed it for the entire drive. I realized it was a sign that I was moving in the right direction, and it gave me the courage to keep going and not turn around.”


With a portion of the funding from CADA, Melissa was able to participate as an artist in the Indigenous Resilience Festival in Kelowna, BC. “I was able to share my story and my learnings through the traditional art of oral storytelling and weaving. Being able to gather with over 40 Indigenous speakers and artists to hear their voices and inspiring stories was powerful. To learn from and reconnect with my community was an important experience for me.”


Melissa feels that working with cedar has expanded her artistry as a jewelry maker and a beader. “The whole experience has helped me grow as an artist, but also as a mother, in being able to share this traditional knowledge with my children and also finding ways to incorporate cedar into the jewelry I make.”  


Melissa also feels strongly about the importance of having funding specifically for Indigenous artists that allows them time and space to create, learn and share. “There’s a lot of healing that needs to be done and for me, cedar is my medicine — being able to reconnect with it and my community is the path to build stronger communities of Indigenous artists across the land and to strengthen the communities in which we live.”