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Green Bay Press-Gazette
Carrie Chapman-Peters thinks about the person and what they will do in life as she creates a graduation stole for them to mark their Indigenous heritage.
As an artist who is Menominee living on the Menominee Reservation, she follows the tenet of “sewing with good intention” — and a lot of thought and love goes into each piece she creates.
“And if you don’t feel good one day, you don’t sew that day because you don’t want those feelings to go into your sewing,” Chapman-Peters said.
The stoles she made for 10 students who graduated from UW-Green Bay this month were so popular that about 20 more were ordered by students that Chapman-Peters is currently making.
She was approached about the project by Crystal Lepscier, the First Nations Student Success coordinator at UWGB.
“It’s about visibility,” Lepscier said about why tribal stoles are important for graduating Indigenous students. “It helps them to understand that we see them and we honor them.”
The stoles are being made from a large Pendleton blanket donated by Lepscier, who is a citizen of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa in Montana and is a Menominee and Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican descendant.
The blanket had been used at a hotel, the Konkapot Lodge, that was owned by her parents on the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Nation Reservation. The hotel has since been purchased by the tribe and is being used as administrative offices.
The woolen Pendleton blankets have had special meaning for many Indigenous people on Turtle Island (North America) since they were created for western tribes more than 100 years ago, and each blanket honors and carries a story.
“I had a hard time cutting it up, because I see it as beautiful in itself,” Chapman-Peters said. “But there’s something special in each one (graduation stole), which is something great.”
She said she is honored to take part in the project and is happy more Indigenous students are graduating college.
“It made me feel ecstatic,” Chapman-Peters said about the project. “Education is the key to our future.”
The stoles are edged with bias tape to enhance the colors on the blanket design, which are shades of green and match UWGB’s logo color.
As the owner of a home business called Rezcreations, Chapman-Peters is known as a sewing artist in the Menominee community who specializes in making tribal ribbon shirts for important occasions.
Lepscier and Chapman-Peters are part of a beading group in the area and Lepscier thought of Chapman-Peters for the project after finding some success with making tribal graduation stoles at UW-Madison as part of a Native sorority there.
Lepscier said she hasn’t found an Indigenous company that manufactures the specialized stoles, so local artists are relied upon.
Chapman-Peters said she would love to participate again for next year’s graduation ceremony.
The university has more than 200 self-identified Indigenous students in its undergraduate and graduate programs.
Last year’s and this year’s graduation ceremonies were drive-through events because of the pandemic, but officials are hoping for an in-person event next year.
Next spring also will see the first cohort of First Nations Studies doctorate graduates, the first program of its kind at UWGB, which started in 2018.
Lepscier, who also is a lecturer at UWGB, plans to be among those first graduates of the doctorate program.
Wisconsin is home to 12 Indigenous nations, but most of those graduating from UWGB are from nearby Oneida and Menominee nations with many majoring in social work, business and psychology, Lepscier said.
Report For America corps member based at the Green Bay Press-Gazette covering Native American issues in Wisconsin. He can be reached at 920-228-0437 or [email protected], or on Twitter at @vaisvilas_frank. Please consider supporting journalism that informs our democracy with a tax-deductible gift to this reporting effort at GreenBayPressGazette.com/RFA.
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