If only it could talk, what stories would the old jacket tell?
- NC Raine | July 07, 2023
The moment the jacket arrived back home is one the Pechawis family will never forget.
Gone almost 80 years, it was like reuniting with a long lost family member.
When Katie Pechawis slipped it on, remembering the jacket from when she was a little girl, the weight of that moment brought her to tears.
“It was overwhelming, it made me flutter,” said Leslie Pechawis, who has been on the Mistawasis First Nation band council for 17 years. “When I first saw that jacket, I felt like I was holding my Kokum, because her hands were on that jacket.”
The jacket was hand-made by Leslie Pechawis’ Kokum, Suzzette Pechawis, eight decades ago, but it took a long, winding journey to return.
How it made its way back to the place it was created is a story made for the movies.
“I feel like I’m part of this jacket’s narrative,” said Cami Ryan, who returned it. “I simply was its caretaker for some time.”
To Ryan’s knowledge, the jacket was gifted many years ago from Suzzette to Ryan’s grandmother, Barbara Thompson – a non-Indigenous family who lived near the Mistawasis First Nation.
“That’s the piece of the story that’s lost to time. We didn’t know what happened with these women, but we can assume they were friends because they lived in a small community,” said Ryan.
The jacket became somewhat of a family heirloom and was always around, said Ryan.
She said her grandmother was known to wear it around the farm, even while milking cows.
But the jacket was nearly sold at a garage sale when Thompson was preparing to move to a retirement home.
Recognizing its significance, Ryan’s aunt and uncle bought it for $25, to keep it from being lost forever, she said.
Years later, the jacket was passed down to Ryan from her aunt and uncle.
“You need to keep this jacket because I think it belongs to you and your family,” she recalled them saying.
And for years, the jacket was part of her family.
Ryan’s daughter, a singer-songwriter, wore it on stage several times.
The jacket came with them when they moved to Missouri, and has been across the border until this summer, when Ryan decided it needed to go home.
“It felt right because it never felt like it really belonged to us,” said Ryan. “I know my grandmother cherished that jacket – and I believe she cherished it because of her relationship with Kokum Suzzette.”
“When it found its way home, it felt like a little miracle. It’s just funny that we figured it out over Facebook, of all places.”
Ryen decided to post a photo of the jacket on a local Facebook group, which caught the attention of the Pechawis family, who identified the jacket as the work of Suzzette Pechawis.
“Someone gave (Ryan) my number and she phoned me, telling me about the jacket and telling me that she wants to return it to our family,” said Leslie. “That really made my day,”
Now back with the family, the jacket is being appreciated not only for its importance to the family, but for the craft that went into it. The leather has faded, but the Cree beadwork is still vibrant and intricate.
“It’s a very special jacket,” said Leslie. “It’s like a work of art.”
The Pechawis family is still undecided on what to do with the jacket, and are considering having it placed in a museum.
The decision will be made as a family, said Leslie.
The families are now connected through the journey of this special jacket, plan on meeting face-to-face this summer, and perhaps reestablishing the connection their ancestors once had, said Ryan.
“I’m just so thankful to have it,” said Leslie. “This is something precious that I will treasure forever. Something special that has brought our family together. It’s a wonderful feeling to have it back. And I’m just so thankful to (Cami Ryan) for making the effort to get it to us.”