Nisga’a Nation artist Julia Kozak designs robes for Pope’s Edmonton stop

Julia Kozak

Julia Kozak says she felt 'inspired' as she worked on the project. Photo: Danielle Paradis/APTN.

In the lead-up to the Papal visit to Edmonton, Julia Kozak, a visual artist and fancy shawl pow wow dancer says she’s incorporating traditional beadwork into the ceremonial dress she designed for Pope Francis to wear.

She says through her work, she wants to spread a message of hope and reconciliation.

“My husband is Catholic and was raised Catholic… We went to the church and I felt welcome and at home there,” says Kozak, a member of the Nisga’a Nation.

Kozak says she and her husband are well known in the Catholic community and because of that, she was asked by the Archbishop in Edmonton, Richard Smith, to design the vestments to be worn by the Pope.

Julia Kozak
Kozak and her husband Adam in Edmonton on Thursday. Photo: Danielle Paradis/APTN

Vestments are a traditional part of a priest’s or clergy’s clothing during mass or other ceremonies.

The designs won’t be on display until Sunday.

“I felt inspired as I was working on this project,” she said.

Although they aren’t describing the garments in full before they are unveiled, Kozak said there is both a cross and water featured to symbolize water baptism.

She says she worked on the project for three weeks, going through several sketches and considering the shapes and colours she wanted to see.

“I’ve never seen beadwork on a vestment before… I thought if this works it would be amazing to see it come to life,” she says.

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She says she uses beads from her mother and mother-law to symbolize many generations.

Kozak’s beadwork is meant to be read as a story, “it’s something that resonates inside my soul deeply. We learn from our ancestors, and we have to understand we are still part of this chain.

“The whole design is a reminder to people that what we do in this moment, what our ancestors have done and what our generations to come are going to do is going to have this ripple.”

Kozak says the design doesn’t have any specific symbols of apology, but that the focus is on reconciliation.

“Some people might see some pain in it,” says her husband Adam Kozak “There are consequences to action but there’s also reconciliation and hope.”

He says when he first saw his wife’s design, he saw two worlds coming together.

“Things that are based in iconography and symbolism in Indigenous cultures, especially from the Nisga’a Nation,” he says.

“I think it also speaks to non-Indigenous people across Canada. Even if they don’t know any Indigenous people hopefully this can draw them into reconciliation and healing.”

Julia Kozak
Kozak shows off her button shawl. Photo: Danielle Paradis/APTN.

While sewing the vestments, Kozak says she prayed for healing and for reconciliation between the Church and Indigenous Peoples.

“I kept in mind prayers for blessing and prayers for people who are seeing it. Hopefully, that comes through and people can see the prayers that I had as I was working through it bead by bead and stitch by stitch,” says Kozak.

She hopes that is what people will see when her work is unveiled.

“We can choose to do what is good, what is true and serves justice. Do all things in love and make these choices that uplift people and show that everyone has dignity.”

Kozak also says that she hopes that other Indigenous people will be inspired to create beadwork that tells their stories.

Both Kozak and her husband will be in Edmonton for the remainder of the Papal visit.

Danielle is a Métis writer, journalist, editor, educator, and podcaster who lives in Treaty 6 (Edmonton, Alberta). She has written for both local and international audiences. You can read (or hear) her work at Canadaland, Chatelaine, Toronto Star (Edmonton), Gig City, BUSTLE, Canadian True Crime Podcast, The Sprawl and now APTN News. Danielle covers politics, arts and culture, and Indigenous Issues.