Quill Art Inspires

P.E.I. student recognized for sharing Indigenous culture and traditions.
by Brooke Campbell Posted May 6, 2024

Each spring, tens of thousands of students across Canada explore a topic of their choice related to Canadian history as part of the Heritage Fair program. For many of them, picking a research topic can be one of the most difficult parts.

But for Sophia Bourque, a grade five student in Prince Edward Island, the choice was easy. A Wolastoqiyik from Welamukotuk First Nation, she knew immediately that she wanted to focus on an element of Indigenous culture so that other people could learn about traditional ways and teachings.

Sophia chose to study Indigenous quillwork, particularly the techniques of Mi’kmaw artist Melissa Peter-Paul. After learning about the history of the art form and contemporary practices, Sophia embarked on creating her own piece of artwork. She harvested and prepared porcupine quills and wove them onto birchbark to create an art piece. Sophia shared her experiences learning about this beautiful art form through a video she submitted to the Young Citizens program, the national competition for Heritage Fair students organized by Canada’s History Society.

Reflecting on her process and goals, Sophia wrote in an email, “In Indigenous culture we honour Mother Earth and her animals. The beautiful quill art could not be made without the tree giving its bark or the porcupine sharing its quills. It’s important to me that I carry that respect everywhere I go and hope that others will be inspired to do so as well.”

Now in grade six, Sophia continues to be honoured for her quillwork project and for her role in actively promoting Wolastoqiyik heritage. After being named one of four winners of the 2023 Young Citizens program, she was also awarded the Catherine Hennessey Heritage Activism Award in the young adult category by the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation. When receiving her award at a ceremony in March 2024, Sophia was recognized for being a young leader and an advocate for Indigenous cultures on the island.

She now inspires other students to learn about their heritage and culture and to share it with others. “Receiving these awards has given me courage to have a voice and to encourage other youth to use theirs.”

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This article originally appeared in the June-July 2024 issue of Canada’s History.

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