Making Good Medicine: Interview with Indigenous Beader Valerie Davidson

8 June 2022
jenn ashton head shot, by Melissa Newbery
By jenn ashton
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Giggy’s Beads Boutique is the passion project of jewelry designer Valerie Davidson. Her traditional name is Misko Mangiikwe/ Red Loon Woman. Valerie is an Anishinaabe First Nations woman from Manitoba living on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples—Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Səl̓ilwətaɁɬ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations.

Valerie’s work is a fusion of traditional and modern one-of-a-kind beading; her jewelry designs are worn for everyday fashion, cultural events, and haute couture. Giggy’s Beads are proudly made for people of all genders and identities.

Valerie has found much peace and pride in sharing her cultural artistry, while the process has gifted her with her own spiritual healing. Val believes her ability to connect with people through her bead work allows her to share meaningful and positive experiences.

image description: a close-up of several pairs of beaded earrings, on a stand; the first pair in shades of yellow and light blues, are in focus, the others are out of focus

(This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)

Jenn Ashton: Hi Val! Thank you for taking the time to speak with me, I know you’re busy getting ready for the summer season and some big projects you have coming up.

So, let’s start at the beginning. How, why, and when did you learn to bead? Who taught you? What was your route to becoming the artist you are today?

Valerie Davidson: I started beading a bit when I was around ten. I used to watch my aunties bead in the ’60s when I would visit them and was intrigued by the process, they were often making “bingo bags.”
My father was an artist, and he tried teaching me to paint to keep me out of trouble as a teen! He painted beautiful landscapes, but painting didn’t stick for me, so I went back to beading.

As an artist, I was finding that more and more I needed to express the effects colonization had on my family, through my work. I knew our way of life was stolen, I felt it growing up, so much racism and trauma, murders, the Sixties Scoop, addictions, et cetera. We were spared from nothing.

I wanted my work to tell our stories, so when an Elder commissioned me to make her earrings, I made them long and colourful, full of meaning, and sewed with love and Thunderbirds, to help tell her story. She would be proud and noticed when she walked into a room; this was the opposite of how it used to be when we were banned from wearing our regalia. We were not allowed to wear anything that portrayed our culture, so I made sure the earrings were long and colorful.

Soon after that commission, I began my business, Giggy’s Beads. I named it after my late mother Giggy. All the grandkids called her that.

JA: Can you talk about the storytelling aspect of your beadwork? Why is it important for people to know the stories connected to your work? It seems like a conversation between you and the wearer. Your work has appeared in the pages of Vogue around the world and on various fashion runways. Can you tell me about why these events are important to you?

VD: I love connecting with people and hearing their stories, which are often woven into the jewelry I make, so I will always jump at the chance to connect and share.

It’s so important for me that my art tells who we are and speaks to our resiliency. And I think it’s really important to be making non-Indigenous connections, to teach and communicate and put forth understanding in hopes of change. An example I can give you are the earrings that award-winning Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN) reporter Tina House wore for her recent work at the Vatican in Rome with the Assembly of First Nations Vatican Delegation 2022. The earrings I made for her were long and orange to represent The Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSS), with flowers for all the children buried in the church yards, and a large teardrop crystal pouring down for all the pain and suffering. I knew this would be important work Tina had to do, and I also felt it necessary to give her support and medicine for this unprecedented time at the Vatican. We wear our medicine in the form of regalia, such as beadwork, woven cedar, and wool, so we can feel our ancestors working through us. That is good medicine.

I’m very grateful to have my work out in the world. It’s important that our work is shown so people everywhere can know our stories. The world needs to hear our voices. We need recognition so we can heal from atrocities that are still going on today. We need a better world, a safer place for our children. I don’t want my grandchildren to have the struggles I’ve had.

This work is very important. It’s not just an accessory; it’s a statement and a responsibility.

We wear our medicine in the form of regalia, such as beadwork, woven cedar, and wool, so we can feel our ancestors working through us. That is good medicine.

image description: the head and shoulders of a man in three-quarters profile; he is wearing a single beaded earring in his left ear, a bow tie in a black and white pattern associated with indigenous art, and he has a small tattoo of a similar pattern over his right eyebrow

First Nations actor Paul Grenier wearing Val’s work.

JA: I know you’re also an award-winning poet as well. Can you talk about your writing? Do you write in any other genre? Is there a book in progress?

VD: Yes, I like to write as well. Last year, I had a poem published for the first time, and I’m really hoping to compile what I’ve written over the years into a small book.

JA: Do you have any advice for new beaders or people wanting to learn?

VD: For beginners I would say just “stick to it till it sticks to you” and remember that you are representing your culture. I wish I had known what amazing medicine the act of beading is; I would have started years ago. Until I started working with beads I was so lost in the corporate world; I hope people can find their way to this healing art sooner rather than later!

image description: the head and shoulders of a waman in three-quarters profile; she is wearing a pair of long beaded earrings

JA: Is it ok for non-indigenous people to wear your work?

VD: Yes! I’ve been fortunate that people who buy my work respect the meaning and process and want to wear it proudly. But, having said that, there are certain components that might be purely for ceremony, that incorporate sacred objects or designs, that I would not sell publicly.

JA: Where do you sell your work, and how can people find you?

VD: You can buy my work or custom order your own story at my online store, and watch my social media (@giggysbeadsboutique) for upcoming events.

JA: Any final thoughts?

VD: I’m grateful that I can honour my mother and my ancestors with the art of beadwork, and I’m grateful it did not get lost during colonization.

Beadwork speaks to who we are, and I’m happy being able to share that.


JA: Thank you so much for sharing your important work, Val. It’s an honour to share your story!

June is Indigenous History Month

We have removed the paywall on all articles featuring Indigenous artists or writers. Our members make it possible for Digits & Threads to commission these works and to ensure they reach as many readers as possible. Please consider joining today.

Further reading:
Reconciliation Canada
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

To directly support Indigenous people and to help address the many harms created by colonization and perpetuated by residential “schools” and systemic anti-Indigenous racism, we will highlight a different organization each week. Please consider supporting WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre.

From their website: WAVAW’s Indigenous Counselling Program provides one-to-one counselling for Indigenous people of marginalized genders, including trans and cis women, as well as trans, non-binary, and Two Spirit people seeking health, wellness, and safety.

Counselling incorporates Aboriginal healing approaches and traditions based on the Medicine Wheel, which focus on spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical balance.

jenn ashton head shot, by Melissa Newbery

About jenn ashton

Jenn Ashton is an Award-winning Coast Salish author and visual artist. She is the author of the prize-winning "Siamelaht" in British Columbia History in 2019. Her book of Short Stories, People Like Frank, and other stories from the Edge of Normal (TidewaterPress 2020) was a finalist for the Indigenous Voices Award in 2021, and she was shortlisted again in 2022 with her work "Hail Mary, Mother of Pearl." Jenn is the current Writer in Residence at the British Columbia History Magazine and an Authenticity Reader for Penguin/Random House USA. While she continues to work on her next book, Jenn will also be reading History at Oxford University in the fall of 2022. When she is not writing, painting or teaching, she enjoys cedar and wool weaving, making regalia and being in her greenhouse.

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