Betty Fiddler has been interested in the traditional First Nations crafts since she was a little girl growing up in northern Saskatchewan. Today she’s known for her beautiful handcrafted leather products and exceptional beadwork. Her artistic skills have earned her many awards and opportunities including the construction of four traditional outfits for the opening ceremonies at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. “The outfits were worn by our local drum group from the Waterhen Lake Band from northern Saskatchewan. I made the ribbon shirts, fringed leather pants, and the beaded Cree-style moccasins. It was an honour to have my products worn at an event with a worldwide audience,” says the Shellbrook, Saskatchewan-area entrepreneur.
Fiddler grew up watching and helping her grandmother on the Big River Reserve, northwest of Prince Albert. Here she learned many of the traditional ways — how to live off the land by trapping, using herbs and creating crafts.
“I used to watch her do beadwork, and she taught me some of the techniques on how to make the traditional-style moccasins, using moose hides and smoked hides,” she says.
After finishing school, Fiddler moved to Saskatoon and worked at The Trading Post where she gained further knowledge and skills using commercial sewing machines, learning how to make jackets, vests and mukluks.
After she married, the couple moved to the Waterhen Reserve where her husband taught school. While they were raising their five children, Fiddler decided to be a stay-at-home mother, and set up her home-based business selling her handcrafted items to different shops. During this time, she was also learning how to manage a business and create a loyal customer base.
In 1986 she was nominated and selected Indian Business Woman of the Year in the home-based category by the Native Economic Development Committee of Saskatchewan. She was also selected as the visiting artist to represent the Saskatchewan Indian Crafts Industry at the Saskatchewan Pavilion during Expo ’86 in Vancouver. That year she also received the Award of Business Excellence in recognition and acknowledgment of the contributions of her development of the Indian economy. In 1987, as a result of her business association with the Government of Saskatchewan, Fiddler was invited to attend a gala performance with Queen Elizabeth.
In 1998 the family moved to Calgary and here she started attending shows like the Calgary Stampede, Sundog in Saskatoon, and numerous art and craft shows in Calgary and Edmonton. By now she had gained a reputation as an excellent craftsperson and artist, creating a large selection of moccasins, gloves, jackets, blankets, jewelry, bags and teepees. “Even today, I still use my grandmother’s patterns for many of my items,” she says.
In 2002 and ’03 she was asked to judge the Western Showcase at the Calgary Stampede. This came as a result of receiving first place for a beaded leather wedding gown she designed and entered in the fashion show at the stampede.
After Fiddler’s husband died in 2004, she continued to fill custom orders and then moved to Banff to fulfil a dream they’d had of opening a small gift shop which would provide a market where First Nations people could sell their crafts. A year later, however, Fiddler returned to Saskatchewan where she opened a studio and gift shop in her home east of Shellbrook.
One of her specialties is creating custom-made canvas teepees which she sells to healing lodges, resorts and private individuals. She also continues to market her high-quality traditional crafts such as fleece-lined moccasins, mukluks, mitts, cradleboards, pipebags and jewelry. She also sews custom-embroidered star blankets for birthdays and weddings. When she’s not creating crafts, or attending shows, Fiddler teaches crafts at a healing lodge on the Ahtahkakoop First Nations Reserve west of her home.
For more information contact Betty Fiddler at Traditional Fine Crafts, Box 115, Shellbrook, Sask. S0J 2E0; phone (306) 747-3298 or email: [email protected] Her work can be seen at www.shellbrooktour.com. Mail orders are welcome.