After spending several years of her childhood in British Columbia, Jesse Larocque was feeling disconnected from her Métis culture. So, when it came time to move back to Yellowknife at 16 years old, she had a specific goal in mind.
“One thing that was really important when I moved back was finding a way to connect with my culture,” Larocque says.
The Northerner turned to her great-grandmother, Violet Beaulieu,who helped her learn how to sew and bead. Whenever Beaulieuwas in town from Fort Resolution, the two would spend time together, making uppers for moccasins, card holders, and eventually earrings, which Larocque got quite good at.
So good that, in 2017, Larocque began her own collection of jewelry under the brand name Northern Breed.
“I had basic designs at first. I would sell [earrings] people saw me wearing and then I would make a pair for them,” she says. “I would say it’s just been in the past couple of years I started feeling able to come up with my own designs.”
Making her work even more unique, Larocque seeks out vintage beads for many of her designs, including ones that date as far back as 1915.
These beads are cut a specific way, she explains, so they reflect the light better than the usual seed beads.
“The types of beads they had back then aren’t made anymore. So, you can’t find those beads very often, which makes each piece more special.”
While beading is a big part of Larocque’s work, she also incorporates other local and traditional materials, such as moose hide and porcupine quills.
It often takes Larocque about eight hours to make a single pair of earrings and the $200-$300 she charges for her more popular styles reflects the time, effort, and cost she puts into each piece. But the biggest reward for Larocque isn’t the money—it’s about the connection she feels to her family every time she sits down to work on a new creation.
“It’s really calming,” she says. “And it helps me connect with my culture and my [late] great grandmother.”