Amy Willier was a Cree artist, entrepreneur and community builder extraordinaire. I got to know her in 2017 when I introduced myself to her and her mother, Yvonne Jobin. They were co-owners of Moonstone Creation and I hoped they’d become part of our Alberta Food Tours’ Inglewood Edibles: Made by Mavericks Canadian Signature Experience. After we got to know each other a bit, the two agreed.
Amy loved the chance to share the story – with guests from around the world – of why bison and saskatoon berries are Alberta signature foods – from a native person’s perspective. Indigenous foods and indigenous people are so intertwined and the interconnectedness of earth, spirit, creator and people came through in every story. I learned so much from her.
Our guests enjoyed elder-approved bison jerky that was naturally wood smoked for three days. They drank Prairie Berry tea. Amy was sure to source both products from native food artisans. I was in awe of her sense of humour, delight in meeting people, pride in representing native artists and joy in making art and teaching others as an elder.
Amy died unexpectedly at 38 years old on January 22, 2021. She had called me on the phone two days before. She was full of life and excited that I asked her to contribute recipes to a cookbook I’m writing. She told me the story of her delight at finding chokecherries on a walk in her S.W. Calgary neighbourhood last summer. She shared how she and her son Colton had gathered them up in their shirts and gone home to make a big batch of Chokecherry Syrup. She wanted to contribute that recipe and one for Game Meat Head Cheese that she loved to make sandwiches from. She never got the chance. Her time was up. The Creator called her home.
Indigenous Tourism Alberta created a grant for $8000 to support artisan businesses 51% Indigenously owned that sell locally produced Indigenous artist work. The Amy Willier Memorial Artisan Grant was open until March 10, 2021. Hopefully, it will be an annual grant.
Now Avenue magazine’s annual Made in Alberta Awards have added a permanent category to their awards called the Amy Willier Award for Indigenous Artists. This category is open to all Indigenous makers and Indigenous-owned businesses and is free to enter. Check it out here.
The overall grand prize winner of the Made in Alberta awards will receive $5,000 in cash, but the winner of each category will be featured in Avenue magazine and the Made in Alberta magazine in October of each year. They will also receive a $1,000 advertising credit with Avenue. With over 5,000 people voting in the People’s Choice section of the entries, this will be a great way to get the word out about made-local native products.
Amy’s legacy will last many lifetimes. I hope these initiatives in her honour will as well. Amy knew how to savour it all.