I had a wonderful experience researching this book. The interviews I conducted with Sherry Farrell Racette, Mariette Sutherland and Peter White were particularly revealing. The Elders all spoke about the important spiritual connection between personal expression and beadwork. More often than not, beadwork designs represent something of personal importance to the maker or wearer.
The histories of our Aboriginal nations may not always be intertwined because of geographical distances. However, almost every single Aboriginal nation shared historically in the practice of making beads from a variety of materials including wood, shells and seeds and used them for personal adornment. When glass seed beads were introduced in the early 1800’s, I can imagine that women would have been excited to be able to have such a variety of colours to use. The new materials were easily incorporated into existing artistic practices. For Aboriginal people in Canada, beads are a connection to the past. But for our ancestors, they would have been new and to quote Sherry Racette, “on the cutting edge of fashion.”
It is inspiring to know that during times of extreme duress and hardship for our people, women created the most beautiful, elegant and graceful works of art in beads. This legacy of artistic practice continues throughout Métis, Inuit and First Nations communities. I remain grateful to all our ancestors who worked so extremely hard so that we could have what we have today.
Beadwork is a very personal form of expression and I encourage everyone to create art that is original and meaningful. Don’t copy. Go beyond simple designs. Try some of the techniques that I show you in the book, “Beadwork – First Peoples’ Beading History and Techniques.” Once you’ve got the hang of it, draw your own design and incorporate something personal into your work. It will be that much more rewarding when it’s complete.
Miigwetch/ Hiy Hiy. Christi Belcourt
Author, Christi Belcourt is a Métis woman whose ancestry comes from the Métis community of Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta. She is a self-taught visual and beadwork artist.
The majority of her art work explores and celebrates the beauty of the spirit and natural world. She has led painting and beadwork workshops in Ontario and Saskatchewan and tries to share the traditional teachings she has learned through her art.
She is the author of Medicines To Help Us (2008), and co-author of Jeremy and the Magic Ball (2009). Her work has been commissioned by the Indian and Inuit Art Gallery (Ottawa, 2008), the Gabriel Dumont Institute (Saskatoon, 2004), the Nature Conservancy of Canada and the Centre for Traditional Knowledge, as well as the Museum of Nature (Ottawa, 2002). The Thunder Bay Art Gallery and the First Peoples’ Hall of the Canadian Museum of Civilization also carry her work in their permanent collections Christi is a past recipient of awards from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the Chalmers Family Fund, and the Métis Nation of Ontario. She lives and works in northern Ontario, Canada. Her work can be viewed at www.christibelcourt.com