A group of seamstresses providing protective face masks to thousands of people throughout the province’s northwest will be able to carry on with their efforts thanks to a recent donation from the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S).

“We’re going to keep going, and now we’ll be able to for as long as we need to,” explained Angela Bishop, a Christopher Lake area resident originally from Green Lake who founded the group of seamstresses affectionately known as the ‘Masked Makers’. “Everyone is committed to this initiative because one person at risk is a family at risk, which is a community at risk, which is a nation at risk.”

Recently, MN-S president Glen McCallum, in collaboration with MN-S health minister Marg Friesen, recognized the challenges the group had with using old sewing machines and other sub-par equipment, and made the decision to donate a considerable amount of fabric, as well as the necessary tools to allow the ‘Masked Makers’ to keep up with demand. This included the donation of 15 industrial-style sewing machines.

“I know the frustrations with working with old equipment,” Friesen, a sewer herself, noted.

The monetary value of the items donated to the group – including the new sewing machines – is more than $34,000. According to Friesen, however, ensuring the health of Saskatchewan’s people is much more valuable.

“Wearing face masks in public places is a part of the new normal and the work this group of selfless sewers is doing, helping protect our vulnerable citizens and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, is to be commended,” Friesen said.

Bishop, the daughter of Green Lake’s Rose Richardson and stepdaughter of Ric Richardson, began sewing face masks about eight weeks ago. However, she quickly realized she was in over her head and recruited family and friends to help.

“My mom and stepfather travel to Saskatoon quite a bit because he has cancer and is in and out of the hospital a lot,” she said. “My brother is also a medical taxi driver, so even before it was recommended people wear face masks, I did some research and thought it might be a good idea to provide them with some. While everyone should be staying home and social distancing, not everyone in my family or other parts of the Northwest have that luxury.”

Today, the group includes 15 sewers and, to date, they have created and distributed close to 5,000 masks throughout the region. Bishop went on to express her gratitude to the MN-S for the recent donation, adding many of the seamstresses were using decades-old sewing machines or didn’t have their own sewing machines to begin with.

“One of my seamstresses (who has arthritis) has been using a basic elementary school scissors to cut fabric,” Bishop said. “I asked why she didn’t tell me before because I would have bought her good scissors, but she said she didn’t want me to spend anymore of my money.”

Bishop also said her group is committed to ensuring as many people as possible are kept safe.

“It’s a real uphill battle filled with so many challenges, but this recent donation will go a long way,” she said.

by Phil Ambroziak

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