When you look at a pair of beaded earrings or a beaded necklace what is the first thing you think of? At first, I only saw the beauty that the colorful beads had to offer but I never focused on the meaning behind them. Now, when I look at a piece I see commitment, precision, heritage, care, and vision. These beautiful native beadworks contain so much time, effort, history, and meaning. Some beadworks hold stories behind them. Some are heirlooms passed down from generation to generation. Some are a way to connect to our past and bond to our present.
Beading has been a part of First Nations culture for a long time, even before the Europeans came to North America. Beads were made of stones, bones, shells, and pearls. Other types of beads such as glass, ceramic, chevron and tiny seed beads were later introduced. Beads are used on various items such as moccasins, pouches, clothing, jewelry, blankets and dolls. There are several patterns and designs to work from but some designs are passed down from generation to generation and kept in the family. The First Nations people have used beads to build relationships, share knowledge and to tell stories. To this day, beading has a significant role in the First Nations culture, and continues to thrive.
Below are First Nation beaders and their stories with beading;
Teal Fawn Designs
Maria Livingston and her mother, Margaret are the creators of Teal Fawn Designs. Maria has learnt her beading artistry from her mother, Margaret, and proudly acknowledges her mother not only as her “caregiver, provider, supporter and role model” but also as her “teacher too.” Maria expresses that her mother taught her how to bead and has always fostered her creativity.
Floral pins made by Teal Fawn Designs
Here is Maria’s journey with beading:
“Tansi, my name is Maria Livingston, I am a member of the Bigstone Cree First Nation. I was given the Blackfoot name Sinopaa-piimi, which means ‘fox enters’. I currently work full time in Lethbridge AB high schools as an Indigenous grad coach.”
This beadwork piece was originally made to be used as a promotional sticker when Maria was the featured artist at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery – Maria
“Since I started hoop dancing in 2006, my regalia have always included this simple 5 petal flower as a nod to my Cree heritage. Around 2008 is when I really started beading to make my own regalia. These simplistic designs are commonly used in earlier Cree beadwork patterns. There are of course more patterns used than this, but this one specifically stuck with me and I have continued using it through my whole beading career and has become my signature design. For me, it represents that constant connection and pride to my Cree culture. When I sell my beadwork I use this design which allows me to share my culture with the buyer, and the buyer shares my beadwork with their community. By doing this, the traditional design is shared in today’s contemporary world and shows how Indigenous people/ culture/ artwork is still alive and worn proudly. If there’s one unspoken message I try to get across through beading, it is the aforementioned.”
Niio Perkins Design
Niio Perkins creates traditional and contemporary Iroquois beadwork in the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory. Although Perkins continues to create traditional pieces, the Haudenosaunee artist blends the traditional persona with modern fashion which can be worn flawlessly day to day. Although she beads to connect with her Haudenosaunee heritage, beading has offered her a chance to heal when she needed it the most. Perkins describes her healing journey during creating the Emma Ensemble – “The project was an escape during a difficult time in my life. Emma helped me reclaim my power through her beauty. Brought back that sense of value and self worth to my spirit.”
“Emma” by Niio Perkins
Beadwork by Niio Perkins
Here is Niio’s journey with beading:
“For me, beadwork is a form of artistic, cultural, and spiritual expression. These values help me create work that is authentic in Haudenosaunee culture. We show our respect to the land, water, and medicinal plants with beaded skirts. Beadwork is as vital to the preservation of our culture as traditional ceremonies are. It has given me a strong sense of identity as a Haudenosaunee woman ✊🏽 and this has contributed to my communities cultural continuity.”
My Grandmother’s Garden Piece by Flora Weistche
Flora Weistche’s caribou hide bead work mainly consists of beaded flower patterns but each section holds a significant meaning to the Cree descendent. The piece was inspired by a dream she had of her grandmother, and the next day she began her journey. My Grandmother’s Garden took three years to complete by Flora and her family members. The design of the main three flowers came from the dream she had of her grandmother. She sews in flowers to represent her sisters who have helped her complete the beaded work of art. In a CBC News article, Weistche explains that “All the flowers are different, different colours, different shapes, different style of beading. That signifies all women are different,”. “But the flowers they all have the same life cycle, which signifies [we all] have the same life cycle.” When you see the beaded piece, you will notice a turtle at the bottom of the garden which represents a First Nations creation story of Turtle Island. Flora reveals “I guess I can say it’s kind of like my version of the Indigenous Creation Story, using only beads,”. This First Nation piece allows its viewers to connect with it by the ties of storytelling, connection and heritage.
Beading is about connection
First Nation Beading can be seen as a decorative feature but they are a part of something much more. The patterns and designs showcase the history and culture of the First Nations people. These tiny seed beads are part of someone’s heritage. Part of someone’s journey. Part of someone’s story. It has the ability to links us to our ancestors, our heritage, and our relations. Through beading there are bonds created, traditions taught, and heritage preserved. Mothers teaching their children the ways of beading and allowing the distinct patterns they’ve created to be passed down through the generations. Beading helps to keep our lineage alive by preserving our traditions and strengthening them to thrive among humankind. So the next time you see a pair of beaded earrings remember there is a story behind each piece.
Thank you to Teal Fawn Design and Niio Perkins Design who lent me their time and shared with me. I’m so grateful to you contributing to this piece. Much appreciation and love 💖
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Written by Bold_Beauty_Stacey