An exhibit by artist Margruite Krahn, currently on display at the Diefenbaker Canada Centre at the University of Saskatchewan, highlights the historical relationship between Mennonite women in Neubergthal and the women of Roseau River Anishinaabe First Nation during the 19th and 20th centuries. Supplied

By: Kimiya Shokoohi, The StarPhoenix

A cultural intersection of creative restoration and beautification between Mennonite communities and women of the Roseau River Anishinaabe First Nation is on display at the University of Saskatchewan.

Among the Anishinaabe women of Manitoba is the practice of repurposing fabrics into braided rugs, dating back to times when women and children from the tribes would visit and interact with Mennonite villages.

Meanwhile, the Mennonite women of Manitoba sought individuality and beauty by bringing the outside world inside through floor paintings.

Artist Margruite Krahn recognizes these practices in her own rendition of the patterned floors. Her collaboration and research on Anishinaabe rug making is part of her wider collection on the Mennonite practice. Both are features of the exhibition, “Resurfacing: Mennonite Floor Patterns,” which is on display now at the Diefenbaker Canada Centre at the U of S.

“There was a need for beauty and a need to be able to express it,” Krahn said. “They were bringing their gardens indoors.”

The question of sustainability has arisen as conversations among climate advocates increase around the amassment of goods in landfills. It’s estimated Canadians throw away more than a million tonnes of clothing and textiles annually.

Research indicates Saskatchewan has more landfills per capita than any other Canadian province. At one point, the province had more than 500 waste-disposal sites for a population of a million. By comparison, the United States has 1,800 landfills and 320 million residents.

Among the Mennonite groups who arrived in Saskatchewan in 1895, one form of ingenuity emerged in painting floor patterns — a practice from Europe that predated the more modern linoleum tiling.

It could take up to two weeks to complete the floor patterns, requiring precise measuring and stencil making. Draped cloths with various shapes and patterns are shown in Krahn’s exhibition, an homage to the work of the women from Manitoba.

“I think what the woman can teach us is good work, and that is satisfying and gives something back,” Krahn said.

Like the patterned floors themselves, sustainability is not one-size-fits-all. For the women it became a practice of expression and practicality, but also innovation with available resources, especially among certain Mennonite groups who were not affluent.

You might call it repairing, repurposing and responsible purchasing.

“In Canada we think we respect the environment,” said Kelvin Tsun Wai Ng, who is working on quantifying waste to improve waste management policy at the University of Regina. “A lot of times, simply because we have a lot of land, we build more landfills.”

Ng is working to develop a comprehensive circular economy framework based on the fashion industry, using part of a $500,000 federal Discover Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

His mandate is to attain quantifiable data to build an evidence-based system for waste management policies.

People should think about the purchasing economy and waste management as they might think of air and water, Ng said.

“If you think about water, think about the air — wildfire and smoke — people really care about the quality of air and the quality of water. If you think solid waste management, most people think, ‘We have something, just send it to the landfill. Someone will take good care.’ ”

Most waste materials don’t magically take care of themselves. The decomposition process, if not executed properly, can harm the ecosystem in immeasurable ways.

Saskatchewan appears to be making gains in the right direction. Between 2017 and 2022, the number of operating landfills in the province dropped by 52 per cent.

The past practices of the Roseau River Anishinaabe First Nations and Mennonite women are a reminder that alternatives exist, much like the beauty that surrounded them and stood the test of time.

For those women, “sustainability was like breathing,” Krahn said.