Beadwork: An Indigenous art form


Last updated 5/12/2017 at 4:11pm

Indian Life

Seed beads Ojibwe design on display at Fort Gilbraltar, St. Boniface, during the Festival du Voyageur

North American Native Beadwork is an art form which evolved to mostly use glass beads imported from Europe and recently Asia. Glass beads have been in use for almost 500 years in the Americas. Today a wide range of beading styles flourish.

Alongside the widespread popularity of glass beads, bead artists continue incorporating natural items such as dyed porcupine quills, shell such as wampum and dendrite. Wampum shell beads are ceremonially and politically important to a range of Eastern tribes and were used to depict several important treaties between the Native peoples and the colonists, as in the case of the Two Row Wampum Treaty.

Great Lakes tribes are known for their bandolier bags that might take an entire year to complete. During the 20th century, the Plateau tribes, such as the Nez Perce, perfected contour-style beadwork in which the lines of beads are stitched to emphasize the pictorial imagery. Plains tribes are master beaders, and today used to make dance regalia, moccasins for infants, men and women featuring a variety of beadwork styles. While Plains and Plateau tribes are renowned for their beaded horse trappings, Subarctic tribes such as the Dene create lavish beaded floral dog blankets. Innu, Mi'kmaq, Penobscot, and Haudenosaunee tribes have a completely different beadwork.

Indian Life

White fur-trimmed women's moccasins featuring beaded Blue Jay and Cardinal


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