Exterior of Nancy Nicholas Hall in the evening, with lamps and windows glowing.
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Beads of Connection: Indigenous EcoWell event highlights beadwork in fostering community and resilience

Carolee Dodge Francis has fond childhood memories of attending beading circles on the Menominee reservation, an experience that allowed her to hear directly from her elders and to connect with others in her Native community.

Now a professor and chair of the Civil Society & Community Studies department in the School of Human Ecology, UW–Madison, Dr. Dodge Francis (Oneida Nation) had noticed the hand-beaded jewelry of a Native student, Paige Skenandore (Oneida Nation) and learned of her participation in local beading circles. She’d also seen the beading talents of graduate student Josie Lee (Ho-Chunk Nation). Together, the three devised the idea of hosting a free, public event celebrating beadwork as a cherished tradition and an ongoing cultural experience among Indigenous people.

Close-up of a hand holding a circular beaded medallion which is mostly white with a colorful growing flower motif
Paige Skenandore, research coordinator for Indigenous EcoWell Initiative, used the Indigenous EcoWell icon to create this beaded medallion. (Photo by Dakota Mace)

The inaugural public event, hosted by the Indigenous EcoWell Initiative in October 2022, showcased the beaded creations of selected Indigenous artists from across Wisconsin, as well as provided a learning venue to illustrate the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. Members of the Wunk Sheek Native Student Organization volunteered at the event. There was also a large beading activity space for attendees to experience the creativity of beading and cultural humility as it relates to Indigenous traditions of learning and social interactions.

Skenandore led the event’s beading workshop. Beadwork kits were given to participants and included all the tools to make a pair of flat medallion earrings.

“Beadwork has inspired me in many ways,” Skenandore says, “It has been my escape, my joy, and a passion that I hope to continue teaching others. It has been a way for me to connect to my culture and community no matter where I am.”

Paige Skenandore, Dr. Carolee Dodge Francis and Josie Lee stand together in front of a blue tie dyed backdrop.
Indigenous EcoWell Initiative team and event organizers: Paige Skenandore, Oneida Nation of Wisconsin; Dr. Carolee Dodge Francis, Oneida Nation of Wisconsin; and Josie Lee, Ho-Chunk Nation (Photo by Dakota Mace)

The event drew close to 100 participants who wandered through the three floors of the Arts + Literature Laboratory in Madison, which served as the perfect venue for the experience. “We were so pleased with the turnout and that participants did not seem to want to stop beading and interacting with their new beading circle community,” says Skenandore. “The success of this event illustrates how social and human connections can affirm and construct new communities.”

Related to the event, and as part of a specially funded research project, Paige and Josie also conducted a scoping review of published academic articles to examine the impact of beadwork in Indigenous communities, exploring its role in fostering social connections, resiliency and art therapy as a healing tool. The team will continue working on this scoping review and look to publish the findings in an appropriate journal.

Catch a glimpse of the Indigenous EcoWell Beading Exhibition through these photos captured by Native Artist, Scholar and Photographer Dakota Mace (Diné), an interdisciplinary artist whose work focuses on translating the language of Diné history and beliefs.

A tabletop covered in beaded items. A hand holds on of the item.
On display: The detailed beaded creations of artist Kristy Baccam, of the Lac Courte Oreilles tribe in Wisconsin, including wristlets, headbands, moccasins, mittens, earrings, and medallions. (Photo by Dakota Mace)
Artist Aurora Arce sitting at a table display of their beadwork, looking down, pulling a thread while beading.
Artist Aurora Arce, member of the Stockbridge Munsee tribe of Wisconsin, beads a pair of beaded hoop earrings. (Photo by Dakota Mace)
People sitting, beading at tables in a large room with floor to ceiling windows.
One of the event organizers, Paige Skenandore (upper left, denim jacket), assists attendees during the beading workshop. (Photo by Dakota Mace)
Close up of hands beading a circular shape onto a white, rectangular backing.
Vivian Nash, UW–Madison student and member of Wunk Sheek Native Student Organization, beads a piece of jewelry during the beading workshop. (Photo by Dakota Mace)
Hands of people beading from containers filled with multiple-colored beads on a tabletop with string and scissors.
An array of pony beads were available for making bracelets. (Photo by Dakota Mace)
Sarah Carter standing in front of a digital screen stands behind a table filled with informational signs and textiles. She speak to two event participants on the other side of the table.
Faculty and staff from the Center for Design and Material Culture presented a learning opportunity to discuss avoiding cultural appropriation, but embracing cultural appreciation. (Photo by Dakota Mace)
Artist Shaya Shreiber holding a pair of moccasins as she shares them with event participants across the table filled with her work. They are standing in a gallery space with white walls with artwork displayed.
Artist Shaya Shreiber (Marten Falls First Nation, ON) shows her beadwork on a pair of moccasins. (Photo by Dakota Mace)
A tabletop display of beaded items and an open book.
Artist Lexi Sickles’ display included beaded hats and raised beadwork on purses. (Photo by Dakota Mace)
Event participants stand to look at tables of artist's beadwork in a gallery space.
Artists Shaya Shreiber (left) and Crystal Lepscier (right) discuss their beadwork with attendees. (Photo by Dakota Mace)