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Reclaiming Métis heritage, one capote at a time

By Karon Shmon, Director of Culture and Heritage

May 13, 2024

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Over the 202324 winter, GDI offered nine capote workshops to provide participants with the opportunity to make a capote, a coat made from a Hudson’s Bay Company Point Blanket, in the style of our ancestors. These workshops preceded the May 2024 release of the latest publication from Gabriel Dumont Press, wahwaykinishoo d’en li kapot: Wrap Yourself in Tradition: A Guide to Making a Métis-style Capote. 

Like so many Métis innovations, making a coat from a blanket is not solely a Métis innovation any more than using a cart with wheels. What sets them both apart as unique is the applied Métis innovations. The Red River cart, modeled after wheeled carts utilized elsewhere, posed several challenges for the Métis. What good is a cart that cannot be on rough trails or one that requires a blacksmith and metal materials to make repairs? The Métis innovation was to make it from the supplies at hand, wood from trees, and to make sure that the materials required for repairs (more wood), would be readily available. Besides these two tweaks, the wheels were removable so the wooden cart could float across water when necessary. So too, the capote was modified from a blanket that was simply draped over the shoulders to a coat with sleeves, a hood, wicking fringes, and a means of closure, which enabled the users to free up their hands and regulate their body temperature with the loosening or tightening of the belt. Our ancestors had to pay close attention to what they would need to survive because the trading posts were few and far between. This meant carefully assessing when you would have access to these places again, and when you would have the required trade items to get what you needed. These thoughts often cross the minds of the capote makers as they design and sew their capotes. 

It was a joy to watch people gain appreciation for the work and artistry that goes into making a capote. The variations participants choose make each capote unique. It was even more enjoyable to see the sense of pride and accomplishment in the eyes of each participant as they finished their capote.  

The How-To series from GDI Press continues with Wahwaykinishoo d’en li kapot – Wrap Yourself in Tradition: A Guide to Making a Métis-Style Capote

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Gabriel Dumont Institue

GDI is a Saskatchewan-based educational, employment and cultural institute serving Métis across the province

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