Laughs and conversation accompany lazy stitches and two-needle stitches, followed by long periods of silent, focused beading.
Six women — with others dropping in, and coming and going — sit at a large table at the Women’s Resource Centre. This is Debbie Huntinghawk’s beading club. The women who come have experienced hardship, violence and trauma at residential school or at home, or both.
C, a Nakota grandmother who did not want her name used, learned beading from her mother and grandmother, and when she beads, memories come flowing to her. She is bringing traditions back to her family. Her daughters and a son bead.
"It was left alone for quite a long time because of the trauma my family went through," she says.
Before she beads, C prays. While she beads, she listens to powwow music.
"That helps me to create beautiful things."
E, who also didn’t want her name used, sits at the table, working on a piece. She’s the one who brought C into group beading, initially by way of Tuesday evening sessions at Brandon University. Huntinghawk also belongs to the weeknight Beading Babes.
The ladies laugh heartily at the name.
Even as E recalls her mother teaching her beading by the light of a kerosene lamp, starting with the painstaking task of sorting beads, she recalls how those times ended.
"I had to leave for residential school for seven years. I lost my culture, but I made sure I didn’t lose my language (Cree). I’m pretty proud I still have it," E says.
Huntinghawk says beading teaches patience, it offers solace and support, and creates community. The women share their stories, they chat, and they joke and chuckle.
C talks about "beading block." She was grieving the loss of someone back home. She had no desire to pick up a needle.
"It seemed I knew I had to put it away," she says.
"After I lost my dad I put away all my beads — I didn’t want to bother," says E.
Huntinghawk explains that beading is a spiritual as well as a creative act.
"You have to be in a good place around the beads. If you’re not in the right space, you’ll have to take it apart. You’re putting thoughts and prayers into the beadwork," she says.
Ironically, Huntinghawk learned how to bead when she attended university for a clinical specialization beginning in 2014. She was feeling the call to find her culture — residential school had wiped that out — and Brandon University offered classes in traditional Indigenous arts.
"I was decolonizing from all the years of being told, ‘No, you can’t do this. No, you can’t do that,’" Huntinghawk says.
Huntinghawk’s traditional programming at the centre is as much about women reclaiming their personal power as it is reclaiming their cultural practices.
"My goal is for them to be confident at beadwork so they can sell it, so they can provide. Often in domestic violence situations, the partner doesn’t want to give them any money. It’s part of the healing journey to make our own money," she says.
The sale of a keychain or earrings, of a beaded poppy or other beaded items, means a woman can buy milk or Pampers. Sell enough items and she can make a living.
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