Chantal Gruben

Stitching Traditions: Chantal Gruben Crafts Culture in the North

Raised to be strong in her culture, stitching together traditional garments, now she’s dreaming up ways to pass along those practices so a new generation can be warmed in the heart and in the snow. Chantal Gruben was born and raised in Tuktoyaktuk and is now living with her family in Inuvialuit. Her home community of Tuktoyaktuk has about a thousand people and they engage in cultural practices like goose hunting, ice fishing, dancing, spending time with elders and language learning. Before the highway was built the community was only accessible by plane or ice road in the winter. Things have changed since then, but in some ways, they have stayed the same, like in Gruben’s kitchen.

In her cooking, Gruben likes to blend modern and traditional foods. One of her favourite things to cook is caribou heart and she also likes to roast geese. While she can’t eat fish due to her allergies, she likes to cook it for her mother. Cooking isn’t the only traditional practice she’s picked up along the way.

At a young age, she learned from her mom how to embroider flowers on shoes. The next thing she learned was how to make beaded earrings, an activity she finds much more therapeutic. Slippers, fur mittens and parka covers are other handicrafts she’s learned to make over the years. 

Gruben begged her mom for a sewing machine and her mom gave her one at last. It sits on her table waiting to be used and she hopes to learn to make what her mom makes so she can teach her own daughter to do the same. She’s hoping to keep those cultural practices alive in her community or to bring them South to teach others how to bead earrings or sew mittens, sharing their traditions in new places. 

If she could give advice to Indigenous youth leaving their home community to pursue their education it would be, “Don't forget where you come from. Remember all the traditional values that you were taught. Teach other people if you can. If you leave home, you can always come back. You need to get your education. You need to better your future. If you need to leave for school, then leave, but then home will always be home. Just don't ever forget your culture and don't forget where you come from. That's your roots and the roots will always be there. No matter where you are.”

"Don't forget where you come from. Remember all the traditional values that you were taught. Teach other people if you can."

Gruben tried to leave to go to school herself a few times but there were always reasons to stay. Now as a mother, her plans to go to school are on hold for now, though she wants to show her kids that there is more to life than staying home. What she wants to do one day is teach her language and culture but in trying to get there she’s struggled with having been bullied, stress and loss in her family. “I feel going through all that will make me stronger so that I can think about it when my kids are older,” she reflects. 

That strength is what she hopes will make her into the kind of teacher she aspires to be so that she can pass on language and culture to the next generation. ”Our younger generation needs to have this Inuvialuktun language so that they can carry on our traditions to the next generations because it's very low and it's kind of getting lost out there. But then, knowing that I can do this will help me strive to get this done,” she shares. 

If she could give a message to her younger self she would say, “Wait to have kids. Follow your dream. Do what you need to have a stable life for your kids so that you can provide for them as best as you can.” Dealing with obstacles like racism and family losses has been a challenge when all she wants is a good life for her children and her family.  

When it comes to inspiration, Gruben looks to her adoptive mother, actually her grandmother, who she describes as a strong lady who has endured a great deal in her 80 years. She credits her for her own strength. “She's the strongest person I know. She's been through practically everything. That's where my inspiration comes from,” she elaborates, thinking about how strong her mother was to survive residential schools. 

Chantal Gruben was raised to be strong in her culture, stitching together traditional garments, just like her mother did. Now she’s dreaming up ways to pass along those practices so a new generation can be warmed in the heart and in the snow. Cooking up old and new recipes that fill the belly and the soul, she’s raising her kids and waiting for her chance to pursue her dreams of becoming a teacher. Determined to share her language and culture so it remains, her moment is just within her grasp while her family is in her arms.  

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

  • 0:00 - Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit
  • 1:11 - Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.
  • 2:22 - Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet
  • 3:33 - Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor

Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    Inuit
    ,
    ,
  • Province/Territory
    Northwest Territories
  • Date
    May 24, 2024
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
  • Discussion Guide
    create to learn discuss

Similar Chats