Two Indigenous women in Manitoba have built businesses out of helping people learn skills like beading, while also learning about their traditions.
Shawna Spence recently started creating and selling beading kits online. The Peguis First Nation member, who lives in Winnipeg, said she began making them to help more people learn the craft.
“I’ve had a lot of inquiries from people wanting me to bead for them, whether it be earrings or pieces of regalia, but I work full time and I have children so I don’t have a whole lot of time to bead for others,” she said.
Spence first attempted to bead about 15 years ago with only verbal instructions, and said it didn’t turn out well. However, when the pandemic began she tried again, this time using online tutorials.
“There was a lot of trial and error,” Spence said.
“I bought certain beads, but I didn’t know how to use them, so I had to go back and try different beads.”
That process also got expensive, she said.
Spence plans to create smaller beading kits that are more budget-friendly for beginner beaders, and hopes to provide tutorials for her customers.
“It can get so overwhelming, there’s so much out there now,” she said.
“I want to give them a step-by-step-by-step tutorial, so they’re not having to spend so much time looking for certain videos.”
A Métis woman from Winnipeg created moccasin- and mukluk-making kits about six years ago to help others learn the skill, and learn more about her culture.
Brittany Stoppel discovered her Métis roots as an adult.
“My mom’s side, her dad was Métis and he hid the culture from her, and was ashamed of it,” she said.
“So we grew up not knowing anything about it at all, until I reached my early 20s.”
Stoppel started selling her own work in 2015 and morphed into selling kits online with a tutorial so she could teach others who might not have in-person access to classes.
She’s now selling about 50 to 200 kits a month, and had to stop custom orders as she was too busy.
Stacey Burridge, one of Stoppel’s customers, loved the idea of being able to support Indigenous artists while learning something new.
The non-Indigenous woman from Calgary also learned to appreciate how tricky beading can be and the skill involved.
“I’m trying to make a snowflake, and I thought it would be a really easy pattern because it’s all just straight lines, but getting the beads to lay flat on top of the leather was just not working at all,” she said.
Burridge reached out online where she found Stoppel’s work, and found help.
“Learning is way more intricate and way more knowledge than I originally thought,” she said.
“The other people on the site, they started reaching out and giving tips and suggesting things that would help.”
Stoppel said she is grateful when non-Indigenous people take the time to learn and respect the craft.
“It’s a culture you want to keep sacred and share, and be proud of,” she said.
“But I think it’s beautiful when someone else appreciates it. As long as they’re not selling the item, and they’re just admiring the culture and the artwork, I think that’s beautiful.”