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.
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.”
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.