An “amazing resurgence” of beading in Indigenous communities is inspiring many to learn the craft — and for one business owner, it’s led to opening up a new shop to help meet the demand.
“I’ve often heard beading is medicine — and I think that that is incredibly true,” explained Kat Pasquach, the founder of the Culture Shock Bead Co., a bead supply store in Windsor, Ont.
“When you’re able to sit down and put something thoughtful together, something that we’ve seen our elders pass on … it’s one way to be able to connect with your culture. And because of colonisation, so many people have experienced a loss of that connection. And so to be able to reclaim your identity through beading, I think is powerful.”
Pasquach, who is Cree First Nation from the James Bay region, has been running Culture Shock Jewelry for years but finally opened up a storefront dedicated to beads and crystals this summer.
She first started selling beads online, but the demand kept growing. The boxes of products kept piling up in her kitchen, and that’s when she know it was time to expand, opening a storefront on Erie St. West.
“In our region, there are no bead stores that carry a wide selection and good quality beads. It’s just not something that’s available here,” Pasquach explained.
‘A tie to your culture, your roots, your ancestors’
It’s something Pasquach has been doing ever since she was a child, learning by watching her mother and grandmother do beading, but she knows not everyone had that opportunity.
“Not everybody got immersed in the culture. A lot of people were taken outside of that,” she said.
“So, whether it’s our youth, or whether it’s our older community members picking up a needle for the first time, like it’s making me emotional thinking about, not everybody had that same connection that I was so lucky to have.”
For Jackie Giannotti Amaro, who identifies as Mohawk and Italian, beading is a new passion.
“It’s just such a tie to your culture, your roots, your ancestors,” she said.
“So I find when you’re beading it ties you to the seven grandfather teachings [wisdom, love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility and truth] and beading is medicine. You learn love, patience from it, and you have a love and appreciation for the arts and the maker themselves.”
Her first lesson was through a beading circle at an Indigenous community centre, but since then she’s been learning through online tutorials because of the pandemic.
Seeing the resurgence among young people especially has been “empowering and encouraging” for her.
“I think it’s so beautiful. We get to encourage and support and lift each other up. And it’s all across Turtle Island,” Amaro said.
“It’s a huge cultural movement.”
Plus, it’s also been fun for her to share her new passion with her daughters as well.
One day, in-store tutorials
Pasquach explained that there are more and more workshops run by elders who are sharing the knowledge of sewing and beading which has led to some of the resurgence.
The Can-Am Indian Friendship Centre in Windsor also offers beading circles via zoom every Monday evening.
Eventually Pasquach would also like to offer in-person tutorials at her shop when it’s possible to do so, as creating a community space for crafting was one of the biggest goals with opening a storefront.
As for whether or not beading is something open to non-Indigenous people, Pasquach explained that there are many cultures across the world that embrace beading and isn’t necessarily centred around Indigeneity.
But she explained that it would venture into cultural appropriation should someone start replicating Indigenous designs and then profit from it.
Otherwise, she said, “wanting to share those skills of like how to pick things up and put things together and be a creator, we can all share in that.”