Indigenous ways of being lie fundamentally in the strength of our people and the land that carries us. Beading falls within our embodied knowledge and celebrating these practices encourages our modes of sovereignty and resilience. Beading can and is often done alone, though the practice also brings our community together in powerful ways. Evenings spent with kin, or lunchtime beading groups, like the one I hosted weekly at Concordia University, provide meaningful spaces for intergenerational learning and healing. The act of beading prevails as an Indigenous knowledge system–it integrates modes of map-making, displays our understanding of the land and our bloodlines–while including encoded stories, language, and teachings. With hundreds of beaders connecting at a distance through social media, and other means over the last ten years, the need for larger-scale beading events has given rise to two in so-called Canada within as many years.
The most recent of these was The Beading Symposium: Ziigimineshin Winnipeg 2020. The gathering took place over the span of four days at the Manitoba Museum with satellite programming at the Manitoba Craft Council, Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art (MAWA), and Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art Gallery. Each morning began with tea and bannock, following a morning prayer by Elder Barb Blind. These prayers established each day with the intention of moving forward in a good way as we prepared to tackle ongoing projects, start new ones, analyse each other’s beading techniques and discuss our many and varied relationships to a craft that has been cherished and maintained by our ancestors.
I was really looking forward to this year's symposium after I had the privilege of attending the Beading Symposium: Manidoominensagemin Toronto (We Are Beading in Toronto) in 2019, held at the Textile Museum of Canada, and coinciding with the celebrated exhibition Beads, they’re sewn so tight, guest curated by Lisa Myers. While there is no comparison between the events—both were culturally significant and successful in their own respect—this gathering held a special place in my heart: it was hosted in my hometown, where I just returned after five years of living in Montreal and Toronto. Winnipeg is often under-acknowledged for its contributions to the national art realm. It’s a city that is rarely placed on the map in terms of contemporary art discourse, and often criticized by larger urban centres for its modest art scene. Most notable about Winnipeg in general is the humility it embodies. Winnipegers don’t find solace in being the biggest, most exuberant, or adorned with the shiniest bells and whistles. Alternatively, community-engagement takes precedence, and that is exactly what this symposium emulated.
The act of beading prevails as an Indigenous knowledge system–it integrates modes of map-making, displays our understanding of the land and our bloodlines–while including encoded stories, language and teachings.
As with the Toronto edition, the Winnipeg symposium united skilled makers and thinkers who travelled there from all over Turtle Island. One of the most memorable keynotes was Métis beadworker Jennine Krauchi’s, titled Connecting with Our Ancestors. Whispers throughout the symposium crowned her as the “prolific Métis queen of beading.” Later that evening, participants gathered for the Metis Kitchen Table Talk: Speaking Miyeu Pimatishiwin: Métis Methodologies for Indigenous Littoral Curation and Critical Discourse, which presented a casual discussion between a diverse crew of friends and beaders including Manitoba luminaries Cathy Mattes, Dr. Julie Nagam, Jaimie Isaac, Jenny Western, Daina Warren, Niki Little, and the recently arrived, Jocelyn Piirainen, alongside Montreal-based powerhouse Dr. Heather Igloliorte. Part of the “Kitchen Table Talk” methodology—a pedagogy that Michif scholar and curator, Cathy Mattes, strongly employs and advocates for—is to emulate the experience of an intimate kitchen gathering. To accomplish this, participants were invited to bead as the conversation was happening, either using kits provided, or continuing our individual projects. The room was also structured in a circle, modelled after a kitchen table, the heart of the home, where traditionally our community comes together to converse, convene and share a meal. By invoking community-centred methodologies, the workshop emulated our Indigenous ways of being and knowing.
Another interactive and community driven workshop was the #BeadthisinyourstyleChallenge by Cree/Abenaki maker, Nalakwsis, who shared their journey as they established the #Beadthisinyourstyle movement, which has taken social media by storm since 2019. The challenge encourages beaders internationally to create a unique piece in their particular style using a design chosen by Nalakwsis. Beaders were then invited to share their results through Facebook and Instagram. Seeing the same design beaded by so many artists highlights the abundant creativity in the Indigenous community. Following this, galleries opened their exhibitions including: Community Beading at MAWA, curated by Niamh Dooley; Endurance… Patience at Urban Shaman, curated by Daina Warren; and May the Land Remember You as You Walk Upon its Surface at the Manitoba Craft Council, curated by Franchesca Hebert-Spence. On the last day of the symposium, attendees were invited into the permanent collection at the Manitoba Museum, providing experienced and novice beaders alike, the opportunity to engage with beaded works from the storage vault that were carefully crafted by a lineage of skilled Indigenous makers, mostly from the so-called Canadian prairies. As the majority of these works are only kept in storage at the museum, this was an important opportunity to physically engage with these pieces. Participants were invited to touch (with gloved hands, of course) a variety of items such as moccasins, pipe bags, octopus bags, bandoliers, and gauntlets. Personally, this unearthed conflicting feelings towards these ancestral belongings, stowed away from their rightful guardians, in a major cultural institution that demands Indigenous patrons pay the full admission fee, even though it houses a substantial collection of our belongings within their massive Hudson’s Bay Company collection. Visiting with these items stirred a longing for our culture to be accessible to our communities. While the symposium achieved this on a small scale, I believe it exposed unanswered questions revolving around acts of repatriation and reconciliation.
Living under the stronghold of the ongoing national Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit crisis, the gathering offered a rare, uniquely Indigenous space where our spiritual, cultural, physical and emotional safety was given precedence. The Winnipeg symposium maintained a space that was truly Indigenous, as one of several initiatives created by Indigenous people, for Indigenous people, to support and develop cultural capacity. Organized primarily by Anishinaabe curator and scholar, Francesca Hebert-Spence, and building on the work begun by the Toronto event, Ziigimineshin Winnipeg offered an essential space that truly acknowledged the patience, time, integrity and care that goes into beading practices. The prominence of holding a beading symposium, which amassed hundreds of beaders, scholars, curators, artists, Elders, aunties, students, allies, and enthusiasts of the craft—in a city which hosts the third largest Indigenous population per capita in North America—is imperative. The ability to present a symposium of this caliber facilitates actions introduced by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), pushing for ways to celebrate the foundational culture of the original custodians of these territories.
Each event, workshop and discussion at the symposium brought a multitude of voices together to contribute their observations and understandings of a craft technology that has withstood the obstacles of time and the impacts of colonization. Gathering in Indigenous-led spaces while engaging in ancestral knowledge systems carries a significant weight for our community: we converge in solidarity, embodying the resilience that our people have demonstrated since the creation of Turtle Island.