Tag Archives: Indigenous

“Beading as Love”: Engaging Material Culture as a Practice of Resistance and Reclamation

By Chris Eastman*

From February 6-9, a gathering called the Beading Symposium: Ziigimineshin was held in Winnipeg, Manitoba. As an attendee, my intention was to be present as a beading enthusiast and occasional artist.1 Once the featured topics of the symposium were released, however, I realized the potential for a much deeper reflection on the transmission of knowledge regarding traditional and contemporary beading practices and the role museums might play in this. In addition to being a beading enthusiast and occasional artist, I am a university student and work as a Research Assistant on a project called Museum Queeries that raises critical questions about the relevance and potentiality of museums as contexts for learning and representation.

Franchesca Hebert-Spence, an Anishinaabe MFA student, artist and symposium organizer, opened the event by sharing a story about working on an academic paper for her Master’s program. In it she had written “beading is love,” and was challenged by a professor who requested citation. To this, she replied, “but from where?” How does one cite oral knowledge passed on by relatives and ancestors who do not hold academic degrees or publications?

Hebert-Spence’s anecdote reminded me of Patricia Monture’s essay “Race, Gender, and the University: Strategies for Survival” (2010), which discusses how Canadian universities, as inherently white colonial institutions, create barriers to success for women and BIPOC (Black Indigenous and People of Colour) individuals. Monture describes witnessing the denial of tenure to another scholar who published in new international journals judged to be substandard, which she believes to be code for non-Western. Scholars face trouble citing work by Indigenous knowledge keepers if only Westernized peer-reviewed journals are deemed to be reputable.2

Jennine Krauchi, a Métis bead artist and designer, also gave a talk early in the symposium on “Connecting with Our Ancestors.” Krauchi spoke specifically about a project she was commissioned to do for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) to represent the Métis people of Manitoba. She, along with some assistants, beaded a large 26-foot octopus bag that is now on display. A pivotal point made by Krauchi was the amount of time she had spent within the walls of another Winnipeg-based museum—the Manitoba Museum—throughout her career, leading her to view the museum as her university. This demonstrates the duality of colonial institutions like museums and universities—that they can be sites of systemic oppression and sites of reclamation at once. Krauchi’s experience demonstrates the importance of having access to museum collections and not keeping them completely locked away. Opening archival doors for individuals to view and study collections not offered on display can provide opportunities to share local and familial histories, bridging existing gaps between communities and institutions.

Towards the end of the first day of the symposium, all participants who opted in for the site visits were divided into three groups and shuttled to the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Manitoba Craft Museum, and the University of Winnipeg to view beaded collections housed in each space.

Figure 1: Winnipeg Art Gallery display table. Photo credit: Chris Eastman

The first stop for my group was at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (figure 1), which focused on a dedicated table with some beaded pieces from their collection on display for us to look at. We were also welcomed to wander around the other galleries and exhibitions with any remaining time we had. 

Figure 2: Manitoba Craft Museum Storage Area. Photo credit: Chris Eastman

Our second stop was the Manitoba Craft Museum where we had the chance to peruse lots of different beading works from their collections, and see the “behind the scenes” storage area (figure 2). A museum docent observed that there is no benefit in keeping the pieces hidden away, and so they welcome anyone from the public who wants to view the collection to contact them and make arrangements to do so. This echoes what Krauchi had discussed regarding access to archival objects and discovering alternative routes to knowledge of the past.

One critical thing I noticed while wandering around the Manitoba Craft Museum was that identifying tags were limited or vague on many of the pieces (see figures 3 & 4). This reminds me of Nicole Robert’s article “Getting Intersectional in Museums” (2014) in which she explains that the choices made about what information to include within exhibit labels is a reflection of what is deemed valuable by the collector.

Figure 3 & 4: Details from Manitoba Craft Museum. Photo credit: Chris Eastman

I inquired about these labels with a museum employee who told me that they attempt to find as much information on the pieces as possible, but many works were acquired in the 1930 to 1940’s when procedures were not as they are today. While not explicitly said, this led me to wonder if many of the backstories regarding the pieces were perhaps not held with high regard in the first place and, therefore, not recorded by the original collectors. If the stories themselves had been recognized as important by collectors, might there have been more specific information such as the artist’s name, place of origin, or more concrete time frames? This lack of historical record and specificity remained on my mind throughout the day, especially since there were pieces marked as being from the 1960’s and 1970’s that lacked information too, contradicting what I was told. 

In addition to the general collections in the museum, the exhibit May The Land Remember You As You Walk Upon Its Surface was also on display. This exhibit included works by Katherine Boyer, Dayna Danger, Camille Georgeson-Usher, and assinajaq, and was curated by Hebert-Spence. I was particularly excited to see Danger’s piece Breathe Out, which is a large print of a photograph featuring Danger wearing a beaded BDSM mask (an expression of the sexual culture(s) of bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism) that she created collectively with Nicole Redstar and Tricia Livingston. Along with the mask being a beautiful display of beadwork and creativity, Danger also wanted the piece to serve as a catalyst for conversations regarding the complexities of Indigenous sexuality and non-normative desire. Despite the history of colonization and its goal of controlling Indigenous bodies, Indigenous people have found ways to practice decolonization, forging their own paths regarding their bodies, genders and sexualities and towards a sovereign erotic future. “Sovereign erotic” is a term coined by Qwo-Li Driskill in their article “Stolen From Our Bodies: First Nations Two-Spirits/Queers and the Journey to a Sovereign Erotic” and it describes “a return to and/or continuance of the complex realities of gender and sexuality that are ever-present in both the human and more-than-human world, but erased and hidden by colonial cultures” (56)

Our final stop of the day was the University of Winnipeg to view the Anthropology Museum. Staff had placed Indigenous beadworks from North America and Africa out on tables for us to see, and provided gloves for us to handle the pieces (see figures 5 & 6). This was a neat experience since, when you think of museums, you tend to think of artifacts locked away behind glass where no one can access them. By removing the glass and inviting us to touch the beadings, a deeper connection to the pieces could be made. Additionally, the ability to look at the works from different angles, including inside the pieces, allowed participants to study the craftsperson’s techniques and materials as many participants were also craftspeople. Information such as where the item was collected, by who, and its cultural significance was provided for each piece when possible. Overall, I was impressed with my visit here. By allowing us to handle the works, I feel the Anthropology Museum recognized that these pieces are more than just art to look at—they are bridges between the past and present. This recognition was also present in their description of beadwork in connection to the collection Beads of Resistance, Resilience, and Reconciliation located in one of the display windows at the university. They describe beadwork as not only an art form but also “a spiritual journey, an act of resistance, and a path toward reconciliation”.

Figures 5 & 6: Left – North American beadworks.  Right – African beadworks. University of Winnipeg Anthropology Museum. Photo credit: Chris Eastman

In A Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood (2000), Kim Anderson discusses acts of resistance and the reclaiming of identity. She writes, “whether at the individual level or the national level, creative expression is essential for the recovery of our identity” (144). Through Anderson’s lens, the whole beading symposium could be seen as a way to resist and reclaim—resisting the idea of “dead” or “ancient” art forms, and resisting past and ongoing colonization that seeks to sever ties to Indigenous traditions. This resistance continues through the passing on of knowledge to others, including by institutions, such as museums and galleries, as places where material culture and people gather. Reclaiming shows up as an important act of resistance as more and more Indigenous and colonized people seek out their histories. The symposium taught me that, through beading and research, we can learn about and make connections to our ancestors and past traditions. Beadwork conveys knowledge through its materials, techniques, and the stories represented within the works themselves.

Throughout Canadian history, the Indian Act has undergone many changes since its original signing into law in 1876, including various amendments that restricted Indigenous traditional and spiritual practices. Singing, drumming, sewing and ziigimineshin—which translates as “dropping beads” in Ojibway (Brandson)—are some creative forms of expression that were taken away by force in an effort to assimilate Indigenous communities into Canadian culture. Returning to Hebert-Spence’s description of the act of beading as one of love, we can see how beading can be the basis of community building, a way to defy internalized negativity and create connections that allow us to feel that we are authentic just as we are (Koncan). To seek out these practices, then, is one way to reclaim and foster our stolen identities.


1 Unfortunately I was only able to attend the first two days of the symposium, with this blog post covering the first of the two. If interested, the symposium’s schedule can still be viewed at: https://beadingsymp.ca/Schedule (Still available as of May 1, 2020).

2 Hebert-Spence also shared another story about putting this symposium together. She talked about how a colleague and her were both planning curatorial projects and symposiums at the same time, both about beading. But instead of it becoming a competition, both celebrated it and wanted the best for one another. This solidarity was fantastic to hear about, that we can take on the same work and collectively benefit as a community.

Works Cited:

Anderson, Kim. A Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood. Women’s Press, 2000.

Brandson, Ashley. “Beading Symposium Brings Beaders Together in Winnipeg | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 9 Feb. 2020.

Driskill, Qwo-Li. “Stolen from Our Bodies: First Nations Two-Spirits/Queers and the Journey to a Sovereign Erotic.” Studies in American Indian Literatures, vol. 16, no. 2, 2004, pp. 50–64.

Koncan, Frances. “Exhibition Examines Beading’s Connection to Culture, Community and the Land.” Winnipeg Free Press, 7 Feb. 2020.

Monture, Patricia. “Race, gender, and the University: Strategies for Survival.” States of Race: Critical Race Feminism for the 21st Century, edited by Sherene Razack, Malinda Smith, and Sunera Thobani, Between the Lines Books, 2010, pp. 23-35. 

Robert, Nicole. “Getting Intersectional in Museums.” Museums & Social Issues, vol. 9, no. 1, 2014, pp. 24–33.

*Chris Eastman is an Indigenous queer undergrad currently working towards a BSc in Information Technology and a BA in Theatre Productions at the University of Winnipeg. He is interested in Indigenous feminism and queer theory, as well as the role technology can play in sharing knowledge with accessibility in mind.

A Meditation on the Museum: Kinship and Ambivalence in the CMHR

Rebecca Belmore’s “Trace” at the CMHR (photo credit: TJ Shannacappo)

By TJ Shannacappo*

During the summer of 2017, I attended a workshop, Museum Queeries: Intersectional Interventions into Museum Cultures and Practices (MQ), located at the University of Winnipeg and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR). MQ describes itself as an emerging research project, one that seeks to encompass the insights of artists, curators, academics, and other community members within Turtle Island and beyond. Most notably, MQ centres the creative and intellectual interventions of 2S+LGBTQ peoples; specifically, MQ values alternative thought into and against nationalist and heteronormative visions of museology and museum practices.

As a MQ research assistant, I found myself in an uncomfortable position. Leading up to the workshop, I had affectively and quietly boycotted my own entrance into the CMHR for two main reasons: first, for the museum’s exploitation of Shoal Lake’s most precious resource, water, and next, for the museum’s dis-mention of certain genocides in favour of protecting forward-looking narratives. While curations of progression are often well-intended, they contribute to the silencing of discussions around current and recent injustices, or at the very least, assist in glossing over harmful institutional practices. And beyond these two reasons, I simply could not genuinely imagine myself in the museum, both physically and materially. Ultimately, I entered the museum out of interest for the work of Indigenous curators, and to look for spaces of unexpected dissent.

The day before and then hours prior to MQ’s field trip to attend an LGBT-themed tour of the CMHR, we, the participants, were gifted keynote lectures by Dr. Sandy O’Sullivan (Wiradjuri) and Ryan Rice (Mohawk). Both lectures focused on the trouble with Indigenous representation in museums, both historically, and in the present. Both Dr. O’Sullivan and Ryan Rice did not discount the significance of museums, but it was noted that museology has often figured indigeneity as trapped within history, existing without agency, and stagnating as artifact. Often, within museums, indigeneity is displayed as under-situated, removed from spiritual context, and displaced from homeland. As Ryan Rice asked in opening, “Where do [we] put it?” This is one question I have wondered myself: where do Indigenous stories or representations belong? Where can we belong?

On a personal level, throughout the span of the workshop, I became hyper-aware of my identity as an urban Anishinaabe-kwe. I felt a lot of anxiety. How could I not? The imported alabaster ramps within the museum stood stark against my tan skin, and before walking up that ramp to take in the exhibits, I was granted complimentary access to the CMHR based on my status as an 1876 Indian. I was troubled for breaking my previously long-standing decision to not enter the museum and because I had to show my horrible picture in exchange for a ticket. In all seriousness, although I am Indigenous, I am still complicit in wrongly benefiting from a fellow Ojibwe nation’s resources, even when I’m in my apartment by the river; attending the museum only made that complicity more apparent and inescapable. But surprising things are often touching and grounding in moments of ambivalence.

Kinship as Reproach 

I like to think I am not a soft person, or even a hard person, but I do live like a moody cat in solitude, a trait which is not often associated with being Nish (MQ participant’s Dayna Danger [Saulteaux-Métis-Polish] and Jeneen Frei Njootli [Vuntut Gwitchin] coaxed me out of my quietness with needles and black matte beads during our workshop). Being Anishinaabe-kwe often calls for a certain amount of openness, care, and love, even in reproach. One guiding principle I brought with me into the CMHR was Aanjigone, or an ethic of non-interference. As described by Leanne Simpson (Michi Saagig Nishinaabeg) Aanjigone belongs to an Anishinaabe worldview, and it encourages us to be mindful of our criticisms, and to be guided by action, rather than empty talk. It is a relational concept and it is tied to promoting kinship. Aanjigone is not always attainable, but I was able to recognize it and practice it over the course of the workshop, and of course, at the CMHR.

As briefly alluded to in my introduction, museums often uphold an idealized version of the lands they exist on and of their narratives, failures, and achievements. They are often conservative or celebratory institutions and do not readily display raw stories or difficult truths in the present tense. In an uncontrolled situation, if I were to seek a genuine representation of myself, I would not think to look to at or inside a museum. Indigenous representations—beautiful, ethical, and compassionate—can be difficult to find within museum space. Instead, more holistic materiality might more often exist quietly in the form of museum practitioners working critically, or in the unheard, engaged conversations between engaged visitors.

In the context of the LGBT-focused tour at the CMHR, semblances of “alternative sexualities” and gender variances were most notably, and grandiosely limited to a wedding cake comprised of photos capturing people married soon after the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2005. Other exhibits, admittedly, held harder-to-find stories of queerness that might have otherwise been passed over in an unguided tour. And although not the focus of this blog piece, even months later, I still think of the visceral impact a smaller exhibit discussing gay prosecution under Nazi Germany had on me.

While the mentioned wedding cake is not a bad thing within itself, it does represent an idealized version of what queerness should look and behave like: guided by heterosexual norms, but between two people of the same-sex. Taking the Cake does not easily allow for the addition of more diverse sexualities, or a narrative that does not promote a historically heterosexual institution, and it does not speak to the spirituality that is tied to some Indigenous queer identities, primarily, 2-Spirit identity. Instead, the first place I knowingly encountered 2-Spirit identity within the museum (not including some MQ participants) was in an enclosed speakers’ corner where people spoke, on video, about their experiences of being queer and Indigenous.

Being in the CMHR was sometimes a disorienting experience. During our walk-through I thought of the rivers nearby, the livelihood of Ancestors excavated by the museum, and of my desire to buy earrings from the gift shop. Rebecca Belmore’s (Anishinaabekwe) Trace grounded me as MQ moved up towards the top of the museum. Trace allowed me to consider the practice behind creating a large ceramic blanket made of clay from the Red River Valley. It is as an evocative art piece made in collaboration with Indigenous peoples and the larger Winnipeg community. Trace, as I understand it, is a monument of Aanjigone—while it does not explicitly confront visitors about genocide, colonialism, or nationalism, it does largely center Indigenous presence, resilience, and visions for contemporary museology.

I wondered to myself: how many 2-Spirit and queer Indigenous peoples might have contributed to this project? In contrast to the message I gathered from Taking the Cake (i.e., that queers are celebration-worthy when they are formally recognized by the settler state, as in this case, through the legal conferral of same-sex marriage), perhaps Trace makes room to witness a more inclusive or radical idea of queer identity; one that is innate and natural to decolonial forms of kinship. And while Taking the Cake is similar to Trace in that it is a large collaborative piece—by way of the donated photographs of married couples that make up the “tiers” of the cake—it comes across as sterile and easily digestible.

Following my visit, I wondered to myself if queer Indigenous identities—2-spirit or otherwise—would ever be or want to exist in a large presence at the CMHR. I was later reminded by a workshop facilitator that there is a desire for queer Indigenous representation within the museum and to consider the thoughts of the person who envisioned, from within the speakers’ corner, resurgent space dedicated to our sexualities. While my initial questioning was not meant to be dismissive, I believe it was rooted in admiration for the colourful and expansive creations of 2-Spirit and queer Indigenous resurgence existing in other forms and in other venues. I continue to work with and through my ambivalence.

At the time of MQ’s workshop, an Indigenous focused issue of Canadian Art was released—Kinship featured Dayna Danger’s “Adrienne 2017” as its cover art, and was introduced/edited by Lindsay Nixon (Cree-Métis-Saulteux). Kinship was excitedly passed around our seminar room the day after our museum tour, and since its release, I’ve left one copy in my living room and a second copy in my office. In contrast to what I viewed and inferred inside the CMHR, Dayna Danger’s cover art—and the works of many of the contributors found inside— centred the body, eroticism, and queerness unabashedly. Kinship answered Ryan Rice’s question, it its own way, one of the places where “we” can belong.


*TJ Shannacappo is an urban Anishinaabe-kwe from Winnipeg, MB. She holds a BA from the University of British Columbia (Women’s and Gender Studies and First Nations Studies) and currently works as an editor at an organization dedicated to promoting Indigenous education. In the near future, TJ intends to pursue a Master of Education in School and Applied Child Psychology, and she is passionate about the intersections between mental heath, self-representation, and access to meaningful cultural production. Practicing a decolonial and feminist methodological approach, she primarily engages her theoretical interests with creative interventions by Indigenous peoples, women, and LGBTQ/2-Spirit communities.

Dr. Sandy O’Sullivan to speak at UWinnipeg

The Museum Queeries research team and The University of Winnipeg welcomes Wiradjuri researcher Dr. Sandy O’Sullivan*, (Batchelor Institute, Northern Territory of Australia), as the keynote lecturer for the Museum Queeries: Intersectional Interventions into Museum Cultures and Practices workshop, which runs from June 2-4, 2017.

Dr. O’Sullivan’s keynote lecture, titled Resistance, Fear, Assuagement: Queerness in the Embodied/Disembodied Representations of First Nations’ Peoples in Museums, is on Friday, June 2, 2017, at 4:00 pm in Eckhardt-Gramatté (EG) Hall at UWinnipeg. This lecture is free and open to the public. It will be followed by a public reception from 6:00 – 7:00 pm in the EG Hall Foyer.

O’Sullivan’s lecture, will discuss research she has undertaken for the last six years supported by the Australian Government. This study, which explores the representation and engagement of First Nations’ Peoples in the national museum space, led O’Sullivan to visit over 470 museums across Australia, the United States, and Great Britain.

O’Sullivan explains that, informed by a history of mistrust between Aboriginal Peoples and museums practices, the research began through discussion with Aboriginal Elders. One Elder urged a reversal of the intense scrutiny that museums have placed on Community, by suggesting that these institutions be required to articulate what works? in representing First Nations’ Peoples across the museum space. At another meeting, an Elder talked about the importance of an expansive and diverse representation where their lives are not reduced to difference or the exotic.

“While the focus was initially on some of the negative concerns around representation, the idea of finding what works brought a range of positive responses from museums,” said O’Sullivan. “What works? drew out complex and demonstrations of how contemporary museum spaces were challenging their own ideas of First Nations’ identity. Sort of. It was 382 museums into the research that I first realized that sex, gender, or sexuality were rarely displayed or discussed in relation to the presentation of First Nations’ Peoples.  This realization — connected to an intriguing object many thousands of years old — led to a re–interrogation of the data, and a rethinking of how I could have possibly overlooked the very queer elephant in the room of Indigenous representation.”

*Wiradjuri (Aboriginal Australian) researcher, O’Sullivan, is the Director of the Centre for Collaborative First Nations’ Research at Batchelor Institute in the Northern Territory of Australia. O’Sullivan has a PhD in Fine Art and Performance and has been an academic across performance, design, museum studies, gender studies, and First Nations’ perspectives for more than two decades. She is an enduring National Learning and Teaching Fellow, is appointed to the publishing board of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and has recently completed an internationally-focused Australian Research Council program examining the representation and engagement of First Peoples across 450 museums and keeping places in Australia, the US and Great Britain.