A group of teenagers in Toronto is learning how to make beautiful beaded mukluks and moccasins while connecting with indigenous cultures at the same time.

The Storyboot School is currently being held over six weeks at the downtown Bata Shoe Museum. Most of the women in the school have some indigenous background.

Instructor Stephanie Pangowish said that not only are the women building skills but the program is offering a “very open and safe environment for people to share each others’ backgrounds.”

“We have people here who … are not connected to their culture and we have people who know so much about the history,” she said. “They’re sharing stories with each other… It’s a cultural exchange.”

MacKenzie Nolan, who is half Cree, said she has always wanted to learn how to bead but never knew anyone who could teach her. She’s decided to create an eagle on her boot.

“I didn’t really think about it before but my dad mentioned it to me that I’m actually the eagle clan,” she said.

Nolan, who is 11, said her friends at school don’t know what moccasins or mukluks are, so she’s been teaching them.

She’s learned about dreamcatchers and colour teachings too. “There’s a lot of stuff we still don’t know about the culture,” she added.

Sandra Mannila, who is part Finnish and part Ojibwe, said she signed up for the class in part to show her indigenous grandmother that “things are getting better.”

“She didn’t pass down any of the cultural knowledge, she didn’t pass down the language or any traditional crafts,” Mannila said.

“That’s because she basically wanted to protect our family from discrimination and kind of leave the pain that she had experienced as a child.”

Olympian Waneek Horn-Miller, brand ambassador for Storyboot School’s partner Manitobah Mukluks, said that the program is partly about reconciliation.

“It’s actually revitalizing an art form,” said Horn-Miller, who is Mohawk. “Our arts and how we live were really hit by colonization and all those intentional acts to make us ashamed of how we were.”

“Now there’s a really big movement to revitalize the pride, who we are, our identity and the self-esteem,” she went on. “It’s all tied together into who we are and how our ancestors lived and survived.”

The Storyboot School in Toronto is funded by a grant from the TreadRight Foundation. It’s an offshoot of the Storyboot Project, which allows indigenous people to sell their artwork online and receive 100 per cent of the proceeds.

With a report from CTV’s Peter Akman