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'These are my great-grandparents': Ferguson family visit Lakota beadwork exhibit

Wakšúpi: Historic Lakota Beadwork will be exhibited at the Moose Jaw Museum & Art Gallery until May 5, 2024
(l-r) Katherine Robichaud and her mother Lita Ferguson; Andy Ferguson-Lafferty and his mother Jackie. The family see their own personal history in the exhibit, along with that of their nation

Members of the Ferguson family from Saskatchewan's Wood Mountain Lakota First Nation visited the Moose Jaw Museum & Art Gallery (MJMAG) to see the Wakšúpi: Lakota Beadwork exhibition — an exhibition drawn from their own family history.

"That's my daughter's namesake, right there," said Lita Ferguson, pointing to a rare historic photograph of 'Big Joe' and Katherine Ferguson. 

Lita helped historian (and relative) Dr. Claire Thomson, the exhibition's curator, to identify artifacts and photographs and tell the stories of every piece they could identify. She also sits on the MJMAG Indigenous Advisory Committee and the Wood Mountain Historical Society board. She visited the MJMAG with her daughter, Katherine Robichaud.

"These are my great-grandparents, and they raised my dad, until he was sent to residential school. They were camped here (in Moose Jaw). This is 'Big Joe' Ferguson ... and he's first cousin to Sitting Bull. ... He was a warrior and then in his later age became a medicine man. And he helped negotiate our reserve south of Assiniboia. A few remnants now reside there, but (back then) they lived here in Moose Jaw, camping in the valley."

Lita and Katherine were joined by Jackie Ferguson-Lafferty and her son Andy, who are also Lakota. Jackie's grandfather was a step-brother to Lita's father.

"It's very moving, because I really enjoy seeing our history and being able to teach our descendants," Ferguson-Lafferty said. "Also, a lot of this stuff has never been shown for the public, so it's, I don't even know how to say it, it's touching. I'm glad it's on display."

Asked about any significant highlights of the Wakšúpi exhibit, the family noted the stories of Big Joe, who was raised as a brother to Chief Sitting Bull, and his wife. Katherine was a horsewoman, a warrior, a beadwork artist, a holy woman, and a healer. After bravely saving the lives of several children during a raid by soldiers, Katherine won the right to wear a headdress, carry a ceremonial whip, and sit with the men, where her word was highly respected.

"She lead the raiders away from the children and drew their fire, and she was wounded, she lost part of her foot," Lita explained. "That's where she won the right to wear a headdress. And she was a medicine woman as well, working in coalition with her husband and the other medicine leaders. They were the last ones.

"Big Joe was a butcher, because of the slaughtering of the buffalo at that time, and he was a big man, too. He could cut the head off a cattle with one blow, and they were so fast at skinning, because of a whole lifetime doing it. And they sold (Katherine's) beadwork and other stuff, and this is where they lived until they died. He passed in 1953, and my dad was the one that looked after him."

The family said it was a bit sad to think that the long history of their people in the area isn't known, and is in danger of being forgotten without active work. Nevertheless, they are glad to see the MJMAG's Lakota artifacts being examined, catalogued, and accurately described for the community to see and learn from — and for them to bring their children to.

Wakšúpi: Historic Lakota Beadwork will be exhibited at the Moose Jaw Museum & Art Gallery until May 5, 2024.

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