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Healing Through Beading: Reclaiming a Traditional Art Form

Kimberly Perreault and Michelle CarroIl (both nee Mercredi) are beautifully talented sisters from Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) in Fort Chipewyan.

Together, they bead beautiful and intrinsic pieces of art celebrating their Dene heritage. YMM Magazine sat down with Kim and Michelle to learn about their beading practices and how it positively impacts their lives.

YMM: Firstly, please introduce yourselves.

K: My name is Kimberly (Mercredi) Perreault. I am an ACFN member originally from Fort Chipewyan. I have made Fort McMurray home for the last 28 years. I am married to Sheldon Perreault who is a member of McMurray Métis. We have two children, Zachery and Arianna.

M: My name is Michelle Carroll but most know me as Michelle Mercredi. I am a proud ACFN Member born and raised in Fort Chipewyan. My parents are Bernice Mercredi and the late Michael Cardinal. My husband Todd and I love living in Fort McMurray where we raised our three beautiful kids Tristan, Melissa, and Ryder.

YMM: How did you start beading? Who taught you how?

K: I use to watch family members, my mom, brother, sister, and cousins beading and creating beautiful pieces. I loved looking at all the pretty beads, so one day I borrowed some beads and supplies and started out with a small project, and I instantly fell in love. I’m thankful that I had family to help me through my learning.

M: I’ve been beading since I was young and always had a love for beading and arts. I’ve always admired my late Granny Victoria’s beadwork and sewing. A skillset used for survival, sewing and tanning hides.  I truly believe that this art has been passed down, through my ancestral blood and I just picked it up so easily, learning new techniques and sharing ideas and learning from my mom, my sister, and my cousins.

YMM: What is your favourite thing to bead and why? What materials do you use?

K: My favourite pieces to bead are the special request pieces. I love putting bead colours together and trying to create something from their ideas. Earrings are also a favourite of mine. To date, my favourite project was beading a necklace, barrette, and belt for my daughter to wear for her competitive tap dance solo.

M: I love beading earrings; I love creating something personal for the person wearing them. Picking out the colours and creating the design. I also really love beading Medallions because they stand out and when you see someone wearing the beaded medallion, you know it’s something they chose. I use a variety of beads from seed beads to tri-cut beads.

YMM: What do you think about when you are beading something for a specific person? How does it make you feel when they react to your beading?

K: When I’m creating and beading, I try to have happy positive thoughts. I like putting good energy into my work. When I’m beading, I want the person wearing the piece to know that it came from a good place. Sometimes when I’m beading my mind wonders back to happy memories of my childhood growing up in Fort Chipewyan with my family. I keep those memories close to my heart.

M: I think beading for someone can be so personal, the colours they like, the designs can be so personal. When I am beading, I’m thinking about that person and trying to create something that they will like and will be proud to wear. It also showcases my work so I want it to be done right, with quality beads and material and that beadwork will last as these are one-of-a-kind pieces. It can be a simple design to complement the person, or it can be a big statement piece. I like to call that big and bougie!

YMM: We are seeing a growing number of young Indigenous people wanting to bead. Why do you think the resurgence of this traditional art form is happening?

K: I love that more and more Indigenous artists are beading. I think beading helps people with healing and maybe finding a sense of belonging. People are finally being able to feel proud of our culture and proud to be Indigenous. In the past, you mostly see more traditional pieces like moccasins, mitts, jackets etc. Today by expanding the art form we are bringing our culture into more modern-day pieces like earrings, necklaces and medallions.

M: I see more and more people beading today and I think it’s so awesome. It makes me proud as someone who also beads. I feel that it is a good way to connect to your heritage and culture it’s something to be proud of. It’s an art that if we don’t continue to learn and teach this form of art can be lost so I think it’s amazing to see so many youth and even adults beading and wanting to learn.

YMM: What inspires you to bead? How has it helped you in your life?

K: I’m inspired by my family, friends, my culture. The people I choose to have around me inspire me every day. Beading has helped me in my healing journey as two years ago my world was shattered when I lost my dad. My dad was not just my dad, he was my boss at work, he was one of my best friends, he was my rock, my security blanket. When I lost him, I think I lost a part of me too. The last two years I have beaded more than ever. Beading is helping me through my grief, it’s helping me find who I am and discover the me in this new chapter in my life. Beading brings me closer to my culture and discovering my true self.

M: Beading inspires me to be proud to be Dene and makes me proud to be Indigenous. It inspires me to be more creative as well as keep this tradition alive. I started beading more and I’ve noticed that it has helped me heal. I feel that I’m on this healing journey after the loss of my Dad. Beading has been my way to heal and it’s so calming. It brought me closer to my family; when we sit there and bead together we laugh and share new ideas and challenge each other. I truly feel that everyone should own a piece of beadwork that makes them feel good.

Marsi cho – thank you – Kim & Michelle. Please keep an eye out for more of their beaded art throughout the region.

We asked Indigenous women throughout the region to tell us about the power of wearing beaded earrings. Here are their incredible responses*.

 

Like I’m a princess. I love rocking big bling. I bead my own earrings, and every pair I make for myself makes me feel fabulous.
— Mish

I love wearing my beaded earrings – representing my culture and feeling proud to be an Indigenous woman.
— Elissa

When I wear my beaded earrings, I feel strong and proud! I know the person who created the earrings took the time and energy to create something special.
— Tasha

They make me feel a connection to myself, to Creator and others. I feel strong, powerful, and beautifully vibrant.
— Rhonda

When I wear beautiful, beaded earrings, I know I am wearing pieces of art that were thoughtfully hand-made by a talented matriarch who is reclaiming our culture for many generations. I feel connected to my ancestors, powerful in my journey and they help me embody the confident spirit I have within me.
— Miranda

Boujee.

— Kyla

Powerful and resilient.
— Shy

When I was gifted my first pair of beaded earrings and wore them for the first time, I felt strong, powerful, confident, and connected. Now I can never have too many pairs of beaded earrings and I love supporting as many talented Indigenous beaded earring creators as I possibly can!
— Kayla

I feel proud of who I am as a Cree-Dene Treaty woman and as a mother and a grandmother. I feel proud of my female ancestors who were beaders; that they took great care to produce beautifully crafted products; that they passed on some of that expertise. These incredible women spent a great deal of time and effort to complete true works of art that I greatly admire to this day.
— Marie

When that beading hits your ears, you instantly feel the power of your ancestors. The wisdom, the strength and the good intentions of the beaders flow through you. You stand taller, you feel confident, your outfit becomes better, you feel prettier. Happiness runs through you from those beads. The power just surges right through you. If you have good earrings, the rest just comes together.
— Ally

Like I’m ready to snaggggg eeeee.
— kâhkâkiw

When I put on my beaded earrings it’s so much more than fashion. It’s connecting with an art form that ran through my family for generations. It’s smoked moosehide like chapan used to tan. Each pair being not only an art form but of connection and power to that art.
— Sheena

 

*Responses have been edited for length.

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