Buffalo Narrows artist going blind, but not stopping

Beadwork artist Marie Trottier works on a piece of beaded jewellery in the kitchen of her Buffalo Narrows home. Trottier, who suffers from a degenerative eye condition, uses a magnifying tool to do the work she loves.

By Mac Christie
There’s a chart of complementary colours on the wall in the kitchen of Marie Trottier’s home in Buffalo Narrows.

On a side table in the living room there’s a tray of beads, moose hide and needles, ready to be used at any time.

And sitting on the kitchen table is what at first glance appears to be a giant desk lamp. But it’s not.

It’s an adjustable magnifying glass with a light, a gift from the CNIB. Her “big eye,” she calls it.

It’s there because Trottier is losing her vision.

She suffers from a genetic condition called retinitus pigmentosa, which causes damage to the retina and often leads to incurable blindness.

Trottier was diagnosed with the disease 20 years ago, but it hasn’t held her back from her passion – beadwork.

Trottier, 63, was born near Lynvalle Lake between La Loche and Buffalo Narrows in 1947. She lived in a cabin with her family and was taught to live off the land.

“Growing up in the bush was not easy,” she said. “Your parents would teach you to tan moose hide, make dried fish, dried meat – everything from the wild.”

She didn’t have much education. Often, she would be pulled out of school to work on the trap line.

But she also learned from a young age to do beadwork, sewing colourful, tiny, millimetre-wide “seed beads” onto moose hide. They’re then adorned to a piece of clothing, like a moccasin.

“I would help my mother,” she said. “I would do the beadwork and my mom would put it together.”

When Trottier was growing up her family would wear beaded moccasins for special occasions, like Christmas. Now though, she sells her work – from tiny decorative moccasins, to belts and earrings.

“I just love it,” she said of beadwork. “I’m always putting some kinds of colours together.”
However, she often has people tell her that she should stop, that working with the tiny beads is only hurting her eyesight.

While she admits it can be hard sometimes, she’s not going to give it up.

“People are always telling me, ‘You’re going blind and you’re still doing beadwork, you should let it be,’” she said. “I say, ‘Well don’t tell me that. I love it.’”

But not every day is the same. Some days she can see better than others. She can usually see better with her right eye than her left.

“If I have a bad day, I’d rather do some cleaning in the house than beadwork,” she said.
Still, Trottier sees beadwork as something that’s important to pass on to a younger generation of native people.

“It’s sort of fading away,” she said. ‘There’s not too many people that are interested in it.”
She’s held classes for young girls and other women before, and said she might try it again this winter.

But regardless, she’ll keep doing beadwork.

“I hope I do it for a lifetime,” she said. “I don’t want everyone to feel sorry for me. As long as I’ve got that big eye here on the table I’m not afraid.”

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