MAY 11, 2023 — The following article was written by Natalie Agecoutay-Sweet, the Indigenous Advocate at Albert Community School.
As I hold the thread in my fingers and begin the difficult task of threading my beading needle, memories come rushing back to me. I can see in my mind’s eye, my Kokum beading with me, sitting beside her. I am basking in the exhilaration of being in my Kokum’s presence while watching her fingers, thread, needles and beads move with grace to create a colourful piece of art. However, as a child, I just thought it was a cool trinket, not really knowing the true history of the marvelous artwork she was creating. I was just happy sitting beside her. It was only later, when I was finally able to thread my own beading needle, that she shared stories and history of my lineage.
As I hold the artificial sinew underneath the document camera, instructing Nicole Reeve’s Grades 5/6 class at Albert Community School on making a loop of sinew through the keychain ring to start the process of making a lanyard, the Indigenous knowledge of beading comes full circle for another generation of beaders.
The evolution of beading prior to European contact, through the fur trade, and then to modern day beading was explored. The students learned how all aspects of the animal’s body was used. Sinew was used as thread; bones were made into needle and awls; and shells were traded to create beads. Students learned what materials were used by Indigenous artists and the evolution of those materials used today by modern beaders. The examination of Venetian glass beads used during the fur trade and the connections to Europe fascinated the students.
The students realized that they would have to plan their own numerical patterns and sequence and create a reflection with their lanyards. After two sessions of history and discussion of beading, the students were able to finally acquire their mini beading kits to start their lanyards.
Some students experienced frustration and struggled to make their fingers move the sinew to thread the beads. Other students simply sat quietly, listened to the step-by-step instructions and proceeded to move forward to complete their lanyard. After starting the lanyards, many of the students did not want to follow their pre-created patterns. This was okay because art is fluid and creativity flows in different directions.
As students were creating their lanyards, some of them quietly worked on their own while others sat with friends and socialized. The development of community could be seen during this activity. Students helped their classmates who needed some support. Students completing their lanyards displayed a sense of confidence and success as they developed a mastery of beading lanyards.
The students who struggled with the beading project shared common issues. The reluctance to move forward and complete the project, even with support, was difficult. These students were encouraged not to give up and appreciate that learning was happening alongside the struggle.
As I hold the artificial sinew between my fingers and help the students, I remember in my mind’s eye my Kokum showing a beading stitch that I thought was difficult and that I would never get. Through her gentle coaching, however, I was successful! The Indigenous knowledge of beading has come full circle.