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Braids and beads break barriers

By December 8, 2022No Comments
Winddancer shows a Grade 5 student named Aaliyah how to thread a loom to create Indigenous beadwork. Geoff Lee Meridian Source


This month, elementary students in the Lloydminster Public School Division are walking down the path of reconciliation with Winddancer as their guide.

Winddancer is a consultant from Onion Lake Cree Nation who is going into different classrooms teaching breading, braiding and drumming.

Beading was the main subject taught to Grade 5 students at Winston Churchill School to bring the cultural practice of wampum to life with students threading beads on wooden looms to make things like bookmarks.

Traditionally, belts of beaded wampum would mark agreements or treaties between peoples.

“With these loomings, it’s a way for us to learn the origin of where the beads come from. We are still able to do it today with the beads we have today,” said Winddancer.

“The beadings are bracelets that we are making for ourselves or for someone they love or a bookmark for themselves to keep. They can make headbands or they can make long belts.”

A student named Mea and a classmate Aaliyah paired up to make a beaded bookmark with one holding the loom steady and the other using a threading needle or a beading needle.

“It’s easy at the beginning, but once you get to the beading part, it’s getting harder,” said Mea who learned from Winddancer what materials First Nations people traditionally used.

“We learned we are using glass beads and traditionally they used bones from birds and bison and the stuff they hunted so they wouldn’t waste the bones,” she said.

Mea says Winddancer also taught them how to braid their hair and what his braid means to him.

“He said that having long hair at First Nations helps them hunt and be focused on what they are doing and other things that are very important to them,” she said.

Winddancer was eager to talk about his braid in his introduction and how it incited others to bully him when he left the reserve to attend Grade 5 in Saskatoon.

“I grew up seeing everybody around me with long hair including the men, so when I moved to Saskatoon it was different for others to see that,” he said.

“It was like a new type of bullying that we don’t know how to address or handle. That’s what I was doing here earlier. I was talking about my hair in my introduction and where I came from.”

Winddancer says the students were really respective when it came to them learning about his culture and understanding his long braid is his culture. 

“It’s the way I honour my past relatives,” he said.

Mea says she learned from Winddancer when First Students students were forced to cut their hair at residential schools “they felt like they weren’t doing as good of a job as they were doing before.”

“My braid gives me strength it reminds me of who I am and where I come from,” explained Winddancer. “It gives me my identity of who I am and my ancestors I guess you could say. “

Winddancer says his grandmother is the one who told him not to cut his hair and influenced him to learn his Cree language to keep his culture alive.

His speaking and beading demonstration is proving to be fun and educational for Grade 5 kids like Freja at Winston Churchill.

The youngster says she learned firsthand “that it’s kind of hard to do all the beading and stuff and they used.

She says they also learned some of the steps they used for the sash.

“They used it for a medical kit and sewing kit,” she said.