3,000th quilt sent out to residential school survivor

 By Amanda Rabski-McColl

 Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

What began as one woman’s decision to make 18 quilts has grown into a nation-wide community effort.

Vanessa Genier and her Quilts for Survivors team are sending out their 3,000th quilt to a residential school survivor in Windsor, Ont. and Genier said this would have been unimaginable when she started.


Quilts for Survivors started in June 2021, and it has surpassed her wildest dreams.


“My goal when I started was 18 quilts,” said Genier. “The 18 came from the 215 graves in Kamloops, plus one because you need an even number, so I thought, okay let’s do that.”


She said they reached that original goal in a few weeks.


“If you’d have told me back when we started, or even when we formed the non-profit, that we would send out 3000 quilts in less than two years, that’s an average of about four quotes a day,” she said. “There is so much support, international support and recognition of what we’re doing, and people want to help.”


“People want to help my people heal,” she said.


Genier and her family are members of Missanabie Cree First Nation.


“We’ve sent out over 500 quilts so far this year,” said Genier.

“But there are an estimated 40,000 survivors, so there’s still a lot of work to do.”


The organization has become a family affair, as Genier’s mother, Sheryl Macumber, and two of her children, Catherine and Michael Jeremiah are also involved in both making the quilts and the day to day operations.


Michael Jeremiah will be joining the staff officially this summer in the Quilts for Survivors office, working the longarm, which stitches the top of the quilt, the batting and the backing together, and can be used to create designs in the fabric.


“It’s another creative outlet for me, and I do like hand-sewing and I do a lot of beading,” he said about the position he will be starting on May 27. “It’s just a new way to be creative and spend time with family.”


Genier said that the help, with funding from Mushkegowuk Council, will let them get more quilts done and to the survivors.


“The goal is to get a minimum of five out every day,” she said.

“Right now our average is about five a week, to maybe 10 or 12 on a really good week.”


Genier also has other projects in the works.


She’s working on a travelling quilt that will go with the team to any appearances, conventions and events as a way to represent the work they’re doing and the history of the residential school system.


Each block has an embroidered orange feather and the name of one of the residential schools on it, totalling 138 blocks.


“I’ve got a few more to go,” said Genier. “I’m going to frame it with a border that looks like a wampum belt, because I believe if they’d stuck to the wampum treaties, they never would have had these schools.”


Genier’s mother, Sheryl Macumber, who is the secretary for the Quilts for Survivors board, said that the work they see people do is part of the truth and reconciliation that needs to happen in Canada.


“What Vanessa started has added to the knowledge that we want to get out about residential school survivors and how they’ve been treated,” said Macumber. “People can participate, and it doesn’t take a lot to participate in truth and reconciliation, and what they’re doing is awesome!”


“Even our volunteers talk about how they’ve been healed by the work,” said Macumber.


The 3,000th quilt was smudged and will be shipped as soon as possible.


“We try to send them with good energy,” said Genier. “So if you’ve had a bad day, or a needle snapped or the thread broke, that energy won’t go along with the quilt.”


Mayor Michelle Boileau also came by the Quilts for Survivors’

office and said a few words on the livestream of the event.


“You’re touching so many people’s lives with this,” she said about the work Genier and her team have been doing.


Boileau may be a part of another special moment for Quilts for Survivors tonight, as she will be presenting the Nova Award for not-for-profit organizations at this evening’s event.


Throughout the events and online classes and work though, Genier keeps networking and bringing people together all over the country.


“We get a lot of people who will reach out and ask if we have anyone at the nations who are around them,” she said. “So we reach out and say `we’d like to present quilts, this is our project, and we have some local people who want to make the quilts, how many do you want?”


Genier is also going to be hosting a quilting event at the end of September called Orange You Glad We’re Quilting, which will be held at the Ramada.


“We’ve got people signed up even from the US, to come to Timmins for this,” she said. “We’re sewing, but we’re also putting in a little bit of culture and traditions.”


Volunteers and donations are always welcome, and anyone looking to help can reach out to Quilts for Survivors through their website or their Facebook group.

 Amanda Rabski-McColl/ Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/TIMMINSTODAY.COM/LJI is a federally funded program

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