Updated: Jul 17, 2018
Why is it that I see some non-indigenous people happily creating and selling pieces with indigenous beadwork techniques while so many indigenous women around me don’t feel like they have the right to sell their pieces because “they’re not good enough*”?
How many of us have felt like they are not indigenous enough, or not indigenous enough to be worthy of something, be it art, culture, language or ceremony? I live in an urban area, so maybe that explains the feeling, as it’s fairly common here. I cannot speak for everyone, and certainly do not speak for entire communities. Those are my personal observations of my own circles of Indigenous friends, my personal experience as a person of Indigenous and European descent, and my observations of the bead crafting industry. I might be in the wrong, my observations may be erroneous, but I hear too many similar stories not to feel like something’s amiss.
I feel it’s an urban problem because, for the most part, Indigenous people living in the city most often traveled there for medical reasons, to further their education, or for work opportunities. The necessity for Indigenous peoples to extract themselves from communities in order to receive basic services like education and healthcare is a continuation of genocidal colonialism. How many times have I heard a friend say they wish they could just up and leave, go back to their community and take the time to learn their language? But you need a paper from a university if you are to make enough money to feed your family. Choose between economic independence and cultural knowledge, but you can’t have both, is the message we hear. So, far from communities, how do we keep our cultures alive? We group together, in organizations like friendship centers and we try to create a bit of home in a concrete jungle where beasts of greed lurk. Women’s and Two-Spirits circles, men’s initiatives nights, family day, language classes, sweat lodges, student retreats, we hold on to what we can and carry it with us in our daily lives.
Beadwork sessions play an essential role in keeping my activities healthy and sober, and it’s how I have met most of my friends. It really breaks my heart when I hear some of them say that they don’t feel confident enough to even give away their work for draws. We need to raise each other up every day, because so many outside factors assail us and make us doubt ourselves. If you have seen the power of indigenous resilience, you know that it’s a force to recon with and that many greedy entities profit from indigenous women, trans and 2S doubting themselves. So we are the recipients of many devices, political, commercial, or otherwise, designed to keep us down while our resources are extracted, and that includes our cultural and artistic knowledge.
While we are here, doubting our worthiness to put our work on vending tables, how many international bead designers thrive through their YouTube channels, blogs and stores on techniques our ancestors came up with? Cultural appropriation has a price tag attached to it and I don't feel like indigenous peoples and businesses from other cultures are operating on even grounds when it comes to selling indigenous/indigenous inspired items. I've done research on this and plan on acquiring more data, because research on the scale of these numbers is virtually non-existent.
Someone was arguing with me the other day that, since our techniques were exported centuries ago to the other continent, non-Indigenous people using them have no idea of their origin and that at this point it's not appropriation anymore or at least that there is no way to stop what's being done. I'm not a fan if being told to just get over it and I believe that there are creative ways that businesses benefiting from Indigenous knowledge can give back to the communities that came up with techniques in the first place. What do you think?
In the meantime I'm going to keep promoting the work of other bead weavers, embroiders, bead sculptors and other artists, even if they might think their work isn't worth selling. This world is hard enough as it is, be the kind resistance.
*their words, not mine. You should see the amazing stuff they make and that they qualify as not good enough to sell