FREDERICTON – Gertrude Nicholas and Marlene Ward, owners of Red TeePee creations, started crafting dream catchers when they were in university. Every Saturday morning they would set up an outdoor stall at the Fredericton farmers market and sell their dream catchers. This budding business helped them cover the cost of their education.
Since that time, they have expanded their business to many other crafts and artworks, built their own shop on Indian Island, Kent County and work with several other local artists.
They are also thrilled to be using their crafting skills to support the next generation of Indigenous students in New Brunswick.
Ward and Nicholas are handcrafting the centrepieces for the upcoming Gelu’lg Maw-a-paw Indigenous Gala, hosted by the New Brunswick Community College (NBCC). The Gala evening will showcase Indigenous performers and artists while raising money for the NBCC Indigenous Bursary Fund.
Each centrepiece is unique and handcrafted using items collected from nature, such as driftwood, feathers, birch bark and beach glass. Gathering all the necessary materials has turned into a community-wide effort.
“Our next door neighbour is an elder, and she happened to be here when we first met about this project. She didn’t say she was going to help. She just walked in here on a summer afternoon, using the edge of her shirt to carry a small load of driftwood,” said Ward.
Many young people in their community also wanted to help collect items for the centrepieces. Some of them used the materials they collected to trade for treats from the small candy store Ward and Nicholas also run from their shop.
“There are three kids next door. They wanted to know exactly what we needed because they wanted to trade for gum,” said Ward. “So I explained I needed pieces with character. I wasn’t sure if they knew what that meant. But the things that they brought back, well their creativity really came through.”
Each artwork also tells a story about the college or Indigenous communities. Ward noted the work that means the most to her is the one representing missing and murdered Indigenous women. It features four hand-carved women, each wearing a red dress and standing around a small fire made of beach glass.
“That piece means a lot to me because we all have to talk about this issue more. There are a lot of missing and murdered Indigenous women, the system did not give them justice,” said Ward.
Nicholas meanwhile said the centrepiece depicting a father penguin has special meaning to her. It is a large piece of beaver-cut wood, carved in the shape of a penguin, sitting atop a down-covered chick.
“With the baby beneath and the father over top, it represents protection. It’s the father that takes care of the baby, to the detriment of his own life, he stays with the baby waiting for the mother to get back with the fish,” said Nicholas. “It’s amazing what they do. And it’s just such an amazing piece.”
Ward also credited Sheila Francis and Patrick Lachance, the other two artists who work with Red TeePee Creations, as essential in the creation of each of the centrepieces. LaChance is a retired social worker, while Francis still works fulltime as a Suicide Prevention Coordinator in Elsipogtog.
“My artists are the backbone of this project. They are so creative and rose to the challenge,” said Ward. “Patrick was our muscle, he did all the lifting and cleaning of the wood. Sheila is really creative and has an eye for this work. This has been a journey for us, together. We really connected and came together to reach our goal.”
Ward said she felt a personal connection to this project and to the Gala, noting the freedom she felt to create so many unique pieces of art and the fact that she was once a student who needed help.
“You know, I was once that student who needed help. My parents didn’t have the money for university. So I really know what its like to need that help to get through. That’s why I’m so proud to be part of this project.”
Each of their centrepieces will be displayed on the tables at the NBCC gala. The centrepieces will be given away to one winner at each table, as a thank you for supporting Indigenous students at NBCC.
The Gala is taking place Nov. 23, at the Delta Fredericton. The evening will feature, internationally renowned hoop dancer James Jones and several local Indigenous performers. The evening will also feature a silent auction, artists’ display and a seated dinner.
Tickets for the Gelu’lg Maw-a-paw Indigenous Gala can be purchased online at, NBCC.ca/Gala
With over 90 programs and six campuses across New Brunswick, New Brunswick Community College (NBCC) is a provincially-recognized, public post-secondary institution reputed for producing skilled, knowledgeable graduates who are contributing to the Province’s socio-economic prosperity. NBCC offers students one- and two-year certificate and diploma programs.
Photos of the Centrepieces can be found on the NBCC Facebook Page
Communications Coordinator, NBCC