“Most people put the thimble on this finger,” Giselle says, wiggling the pointer on her right hand, “but I have always put it on this finger. I don’t know why.” She tries to wriggle her ring finger, but as she is in the middle of sewing a trio of delicate beads onto smoked hide, her hands are a little busy at the moment.
I don’t mention that the ring finger is symbolic, representing connections to the heart. That’s why wedding rings go on that finger, based upon old belief that there was a vein from fingertip to heart signifying an emotional commitment. It doesn’t surprise me that her connection to love, to her grandmother, to culture – is represented in a silver thimble delicately nestled on the tip of a ring finger.
Giselle George is a twenty-nine-year-old Dene beadwork artist, currently living on Treaty Six Territory, within Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Her home reserve is the English River First Nation, located up north and nestled within the boreal forest, sitting by the never freezing rapids of the Churchill River, and she grew up in Meadow Lake with her immediate family – mom, dad, a brother and a sister. And around nine years ago, she was first taught about beadwork by her Grandmother, the late Christine George. Her knowledge is scattered with memories she freely shares – she talks of the old smokehouse where her Grandmother prepared meats and food, now slowly being reclaimed by the surrounding forest and brush.
She tells stories of running by the water, tumbling like puppies over cousins older and younger than her, and Grandma George always watching from the window, keeping an eye on them, while she finished the beadwork constantly in hand.
And when she sits amongst her Grandmother’s older beadwork – some in pristine untouched condition, still waiting to be sewn onto moccasins or mitts and yet others in various states of repair and disrepair, because her grandma threw nothing away – she shares the valuable lessons given to her. Beadwork could be picked up and beads saved, hide cut up and used again for different projects. Waste nothing. Giselle doesn’t speak much of the time after her Grandmother passed, three years ago now, and how the yard has changed from when she was younger.
But now, Giselle is sitting cross-legged on a grey couch, small dog at her side, in a home she had bought with her sister Jill, who is slowly making homemade tomato soup from vegetables they had grown in their backyard garden this summer. She continues to tell me stories of how she has been given, gifted or collected the scraps of hide neatly placed in plastic boxes around her. “I cleaned up for you,” she said, laughing. “It’s usually messier than this.” There are hundreds of beads in neat little piles around her, and she moves with innate grace around them, never disturbing or overturning one unless it’s to thread her needle.
She continues to talk, telling stories of growing up watching her Grandmother bead in her little house in Patuanak, but never having the time previous to commit to learning, as her needle captures bead after bead. It’s rather hypnotizing. She talks of working off the patterns her Grandmother had created, but also acknowledging how she makes these patterns her own – carrying the story forward, marking her own time in a shifted beadwork pattern. She talks about finding her voice and her community within online spaces, and what that means to her, how exciting it is now. The smell of smoked hide lingers around us and as she weaves needle and stories, remembering home, and she brings peace, the low light catching off a silver thimble nestled onto the tip of a ring finger.
Giselle George is a Dene beadwork artist from English River First Nation, SK and living in Treaty 6 Territory of Saskatoon, SK. Her beadwork is based off traditional Dene patterns and teachings from her grandmother and community. Her work can be found at @_gisellegeorgebeads //
Images and Essay by by Tenille K Campbell of sweetmoon photography.