Pete Barrett, who grew up in the mouth of the Exploits River, came to Labrador in 1967. She explains what inspires her jewellery-making:
Most of it comes from the heart, and most of it is inspired by some people, the land, the things that I do, I love nature. So everything around me can just spark off a design for a piece of jewellery. And I really like the aboriginal designs. As I was researching my background, I started to get into more what the indigenous symbols meant and it created a whole new game for me in designing the jewellery.
But I also like things like flowers and the textures of nature. So, I really like doing that. And feathers. I hate birds. I do not like birds at all. I’m scared to death of them, but when I see a feather, I can see how the lines and the stem of the feather can be a new piece of jewellery and that just starts a whole new line for me.
I started the research to see where we actually came from. Where my great-grandmother came from. But it always led me through the craft or the art part of it. So, when I started getting into, especially the caribou painted coats, I can’t say it was spiritual, but it was in a way. It was so part of me. It was part of my heart. Like I couldn’t do enough. I couldn’t draw enough. I couldn’t get it out fast enough when I was reading, and learning and talking to people about it. I guess that was part of learning about who I was and where I came from, one part of me, so it was amazing.
Part of what she [great-grandmother] was, was Montagnais. She was adopted. We just know her adopted name: Susan Powell. But not the Powells in Labrador. It was not part of that Powell family at all, that we know of. She grew up in Newfoundland, and she died in the late 1800s. But there is a nice photo of her done in a studio, standing very strong, erect, very proper indigenous lady. Always looked at it and thought, “I’d like to have met her, I’d like to know who her people were but we’ve never had that opportunity.”
But I never pick up a tea doll, never, that i don’t think, “Did they actually, did my great-grand mother, or my great-great grandmother, actually have a tea doll as a little girl?” And my great-grandmother never had the opportunity because she was only a baby when she left. Did her people, did they carry a tea-doll? I always wondered about that.
I’ve always felt a connection. Lot of my friends are Mi’kmaq. I spend a lot of time with the Mi’kmaq people, the ladies in Central Newfoundland. I grew up living very close to the land, so it’s not something that’s totally new to me. I’ve always had a feeling like as if it’s back in here, it’s part of me.