No one likes to be stereotyped. Historically, Indigenous people in Canada have put up with racist imagery that doesn’t represent their full cultural spectrum as unique and varied nations.
Several years ago, in preparation for Indigenous History Month, we consulted with our Indigenous associates, and members of Indigenous communities, about the visual materials we wanted to use in honour of the occasion. The images we had chosen were respectful but somewhat traditional, including various dancers at a pow-wow.
An elder and board member of one of the Indigenous nations said, “We are more than feathers and leathers. There is more that represents us as a people.”
We took that comment to heart and sought to listen, learn, and understand how we might better represent Indigenous culture and our respect for our Indigenous relationships. Through this, we discovered that art through the form of beadwork is an important, and beautiful, aspect of Indigenous culture. Different nations and tribes have unique colours and designs in their beadwork practice, but the traditional craft is one they all have in common.
With that idea in mind, we reached out to our Indigenous partners and got recommendations for Indigenous beadwork artists from associates, chiefs, and board members of Indigenous nations. We commissioned artists from several First Nations across Canada to design their own version of a beaded Petro-Canada logo. The idea was to choose one to digitize and share to acknowledge the history and experiences of Indigenous peoples as well as celebrate our relationships.
After seeing all the artists’ designs, we wanted to share all of them – along with each of their stories – with Canadians. Here, we introduce four of the artists, along with their beaded logo designs.
Didi Grandjambe, a Cree beadwork artist residing in the Fort McKay First Nation
When Didi created her version of the Petro-Canada logo, she knew what she wanted to do – though it did take her two tries. “When I imagined my design, I could immediately see it. I wanted to take a different way around the maple leaf. I did have to try it twice – I ended up taking the first one apart but got it the way I wanted the second time. Took me about three weeks of work to complete.”
Didi is pleased to be part of Petro-Canada’s beaded logo initiative and hopes more companies will follow suit with projects that will start the process of educating others. “Reaching out to local people who do traditional crafts… it really brings awareness to our culture. It starts a process of people asking questions and wanting to learn more.”
Rosita Hirtle, a beadwork artist of Dene descent from the Fort McKay First Nation
Rosita’s designs are inspired both by her traditional culture as well as pop culture. “Dene beadwork is an inspiration. The different ways the flowers are drawn in our culture. Our different colours.” Rosita laughs, “but I’ve also made a phone grip of Yoda. I love the craft. I don’t even look at it as time. If I’m troubled or stressed, I just sit down and work on my beads. There’s an area at my kitchen table that is just for beading. No one sits in Mommy’s chair!”
Rosita sees beadwork, like other visual arts, as a way to contribute to healing and reconciliation. “Art gives notice, it gives recognition to a cause. It starts conversations. It’s something that people can point to and say ‘have you seen this?’ Art helps bring things to the surface. We need to talk about things (like MMIWG or Every Child Matters) so they aren’t forgotten. Healing starts with conversations.”
Janice Johnstone, a beadwork artist and member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation
Even though Janice has been beading for over twenty years, she’s never done a dream catcher like this one before. “I make little ones for your car with pendant feathers. And I’ve done a big one before with fringes. But never one this big with a centrepiece. I used the biggest hoop ring I could find – it’s half webbing and half centrepiece. But the fringes were the hardest part.”
For Janice, initiatives like Petro-Canada’s beaded logo project are an important contribution to Truth and Reconciliation. “Asking for participation from Indigenous artists and sharing Indigenous cultures helps. Putting a logo like this up, whether at sites across Canada or online, helps. It recognizes what Indigenous people have gone through. It’s an awesome idea and I’m honoured I was asked to participate.”
Shantel Nawash, a beadwork artist with Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) and traditional Blackfoot heritage (Siksika Nation); member of the Saugeen First Nation
When Shantel was asked to design a logo for Petro-Canada, she knew that she wanted it to be functional. Not something that was simply hung in the lobby but could be worn to events and seen by people. So, she chose a medallion. “Beadwork is so intricate, so time-consuming. There is authenticity in something that is made from your own two hands. It’s a very sacred thing. It’s a piece of me.”
When she isn’t beading, Shantel is a full-time employee at Suncor for the past 11 years, currently an SCM Administrator/Analyst. She is also the Cultural Awareness Circle Lead on Journeys, Suncor’s employee inclusion group for Indigenous employees. When Shantel first got involved with Suncor and its support of Indigenous culture, it was surprising to her that more people didn’t know about Indigenous culture – from something as simple as bannock to more complex issues like the history of Residential schools in Canada. “It’s not that people don’t care. It’s that they don’t know. And how can you care about something that you don’t know? That’s why visibility is really important. All during the (National Indigenous History) month I’ll be wearing my ribbon skirt and my kokum scarf. The more visibility, the better!”
Many thanks to these artists for their contributions to this project and sharing their stories! We are honoured to share them with you. Look for an introduction to the next set of artists later this summer.