• reconciliactionyeg

The Flower Beadwork People: stitching with my ancestors

Tansi,

Have you ever been drawn to something but you can’t explain why? Just being near it makes you feel good; it makes your soul happy, and you feel at peace. It is difficult to explain, although it makes perfect sense to those who have experienced it.

This good feeling is often referred to as blood-memory; according to Nêhiyaw history blood memory is believed to be "written" in the blood memory and in the spiritual memories of its peoples."[1] What this means is there is an “ancestral (genetic) connection to our language, songs, spirituality, and teachings. It is the good feeling that we experience when we are near these things.”[2]

Beadwork Photo: Work in Progress by Amanda Wagar


Crafting as a way to connect

When I craft something I experience this. I feel whole. I feel connected. I feel a sense of spirituality that I have never felt before. Blood memory - it’s as if my ancestors can connect with me through these artistic outlets and for years I never fully understood what that feeling was.

When I was younger I was eager to learn any form of craft: cross stitch, embroidery, beading, jewelry making, painting, drawing, or poetry - just to name a few. In fact, I have always been happiest when I can create something with my hands. Growing up I knew I was Metis, but there weren’t any experiential learning opportunities available for me to learn traditional Metis arts.

Without having a kokum to teach me how to bead my moccasins, or any other traditional Metis forms of art, I have learnt how to fill this gap by teaching myself. I’ve always believed that I was just artistic and had a determination to learn these things. It turns out that blood memory has been pulling me back to my Metis roots, but most recently through Metis beadwork - which is the focus of today’s post.

Where does Metis beadwork come from?

Just as Metis people are the result of the relationships between European and First Nations peoples, our beadwork is also a combination of these communities.[3] Before settlers arrived, First Nations beadwork was more geometric in its design. When Europeans arrived, they brought their embroidered flowers and intricate designs.[4] So naturally, Metis beadwork is a combination of these communities.

Over time, floral beadwork has become one of the most distinctive Métis symbols.[5]

Soon the local vegetation became the primary influence for Metis beaders, which told the story of their geographic location. The floral designs have become synonymous with Metis culture, and rightfully so, Metis peoples are widely known as the Flower Beadwork People.[6]

Connecting to the land, places and people

Traditionally, the materials used to stitch together Metis beadwork included various brain-tanned hides (moose, elk, and deer) and sinew.[7] This is a direct tie to the land, and traditional hunting practices when the entire animal was utilized. While these materials are still available today, modern beaders typically use various fabrics and mercerized cotton thread.[8]

The artist generally has someone specific in mind when they are creating their beadwork, and with those considerations, there is a deliberateness in each bead choice, whether it is color, shape, size or placement.[9] Some Metis teachings hold that each bead represents a spirit[10] and in this way, Metis beadwork connects the artist to their ancestral roots. The result is not only a beautiful piece of artwork, but a reminder of Metis legal teachings that gently stitch together generations of the past, present and future.[11]

In order to find out who you are, you need to really look inside yourself. [12]

Reclaiming Metis traditions

While colonialism created the Metis people by bringing Europeans and First Nations together, colonialism is also the reason Metis culture was nearly destroyed.[13] It is also the reason traditional teachings have been lost from generation to generation.

For me, learning traditional art forms like beading is my way of reclaiming my ancestry and reconnecting with my ancestors. It is woven into the fabric of who I am and it is driven by blood memory. Considering I am a mere five weeks from finishing law school, there is no time like the present to be reminded of who I am, Metis legal teachings, and how to integrate these elements into my practice within the criminal justice system.

Until next time.

Amanda & Team ReconciliACTION YEG

[1] Centre for Race and Culture, “Nehiyaw Language Flash Cards” online (pdf): <https://www.google.com/url?q=https://cfrac.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Nehiyaw-Language-Flash-Cards_-2020.pdf&sa=D&source=docs&ust=1646723279795912&usg=AOvVaw2GATvtkjPMRL1-tjMmIDxV> (referencing Sylvia McAdam, Nationhood Interrupted 25).

[2] Mary Annette Pember, “Blood Memory”, (July 16, 2010), online: The Daily Yonder <https://dailyyonder.com/blood-memory/2010/07/16/>.

[3]Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada, Metis: Material Culture, online: Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada <https://indigenouspeoplesatlasofcanada.ca/article/material-culture/#:~:text=By%20the%201830s%2C%20increasingly%20naturalistic%20and%20colourful%20floral,they%20used%20were%20procured%20from%20the%20trading%20companies.>.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.


[6] Our Shared Inheritance: Traditional Metis Beadwork, online (video): YouTube <https://youtu.be/8GcmH7wnK3c>.

[7] Lawrence J. Barkwell, “Characteristics of Metis Beadwork” online (pdf): Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research, <https://www.metismuseum.ca/media/document.php/14195.Characteristics%20of%20Metis%20Beadwork.pdf>.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Borealis Beading - the stories and history behind the art, online: YouTube <https://youtu.be/hJpiZywHZGs>.

[10] Supra note 6.

[11] Darcy Lindberg, “Miyo Nêhiyâwiwin (Beautiful Creeness) Ceremonial Aesthetics and Nêhiyaw Legal Pedagogy” (2018) 16/17 Indigenous Law Journal 51.

[12] Supra note 9.

[13] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, Volume One: Summary (Toronto, James Lormier & Company Ltd., Publishers, 2015) at 65-67; Chantal Fiola, Rekindling the Sacred Fire: Metis Ancestry and Anishinaabe Spirituality, (Winnipeg, University of Manitoba Press, 2015) at 63.

Other resources:

-Canada’s First Peoples, The Metis, online: <http://firstpeoplesofcanada.com/fp_metis/fp_metis5.html>.

-The Story of the Flower Beadwork People with Jennine Krauchie, online: YouTube <https://youtu.be/Pf4rEs4yT8k>.

-Metis Nation of Alberta, “Metis Culture Cards: Beadwork & Embroidery” online (pdf): Metis Nation of Alberta <https://albertametis.com/app/uploads/2021/05/Culture-Cards-Beadwork-Embroidery.png>.


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