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The Story of Rattle-making

by Gloria Tsui



Picture the scene, on a warm day in August, 12 women sit in a circle preparing to make rattles. A gentle breeze whistles through the treetops. The sound of birds. The women feel the rough texture of the hide between their fingers. Laughter and chatter fill the circle.  

Except this is 2020. The hides they hold haven’t changed from days of old. Yet now they are smiling at each other through little squares on Zoom like a shifting puzzle board. In their minds they are sitting in a circle, perhaps on the grass by a lake. The spirit of the circle hasn’t changed. 

Instead of receiving the hides from a hunt and gathering the materials for their rattles from their surroundings, each women received a bundle in the mail of materials that were lovingly prepared and packaged by the rattle workshop facilitator, Jessie, mama bear who donned her newly-acquired bear-patterned ribbon skirt. As she would have in person, Jessie stood up and did a twirl to show off her ribbon skirt. The others all applauded. The smiling faces reflected women from Chinese, East Indian, European, South American as well as Indigenous heritage. Some were sitting in their homes on these unceded territories of the Squamish, Musquem and Tslewatuth nations. Others were in Campbell River or sitting in a car on their way to Tofino. From all these different locations, they stopped their day to be together for a couple of hours to work with their hands and learn an age-old skill. 

As their hands were busy stitching and shaping, the women shared stories as if they were old friends though most had just met that day over Zoom. One women picked up a cedar rattle that her father-in-law had made and shared the story of the rattle from his culture. Knowing that they were working with deer hide, an East Indian woman was reminded of a story she had heard from her culture about the smell of a deer’s bellybutton, so she humbly asked the Indigenous women whether they could verify that a deer’s bellybutton did indeed have a smell. The laughter was infectious and bonding.  

At the start of making their rattles, Jessie asked each person to set an intention for the rattle so that each time they used it, it would send that intention out to the universe. Some gifted their rattles with healing power, others with care for grandmother earth. One women prayed that the coronavirus would be gone and wished blessings on care home residents and workers. As the rattles slowly took shape, the intentions they carried became more and more powerful. The hearts and spirits of these 12 women were eternally linked over the vast spaces that separated them. They will always be connected in this time they shared together and their rattles will evoke these good memories and be good medicine for them on those days when they need it. 

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