Me, Dan Levy, and the Mighty Bead

by | Jan 20, 2021 | Indigenous Art and Craft

I don’t know about you, but when Dan Levy speaks, I listen.

So, when the Schitt’s Creek star invited his Instagram followers to join him as he embarked on the 12-week Indigenous Canada course offered by the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Native Studies, I was all in. I knew enough about Canada’s history to know that the story is almost always told from the perspective of what we in the writing world refer to as an unreliable narrator—a very white, very colonial narrator.

Determined to find another perspective, I signed up.

Every lecture was brilliant. Mind-opening, heart-breaking, and awe-inspiring at every turn. Then, in the final class, which focussed on Indigenous art, Dr. Tracy Bear said this:

“Many people see Indigenous quill- and beadwork as beautiful works of art, and yet not many people know that beadwork often functions as a means of communication… [It] often told a story that could be deciphered in the materials and designs used. Generation to generation, parents and grandparents used beadwork to illustrate stories and pass on knowledge.”

Wait, what? How can something as tiny as a bead do all that? How do Indigenous artists use beadwork to communicate such fundamental elements of history, culture, and identity? With the course as a launching point, I began to explore, reading every article I could get my hands on, visiting beading circles, discovering the thriving online beading community, and talking with Indigenous bead artists (see the sidebar for some links to helpful resources).

Featured photo credit Malinda Gray.