bead more. worry less.

Life is happening. It’s been crazy but so great. I’ve been shuffling around many hats and I’ve been trying to do it all.  I haven’t been up on the Tea and Bannock blog for weeks because I simply couldn’t keep up. I needed to take a break or learn to let go of some of my workload. Slowly I’ve learned to say no to a few things, loose control a little bit and to RELAX. Chill out. Just to be ok with doing nothing, sometimes.

I’m a photographer, a girlfriend, a full time stepmother of three, a traditional games manager with ASCNWT, a blogger for Tea & Bannock and a Chef de Mission for Team NWT at 2017 North American Indigenous Games. My life has been moving so quickly that I often forget to stop and smell the flowers. 

While trying to do it all and run a photography business on top of it, my computer happened to crash back in January 2017. Boom! Done-zo! This has caused a lot of frustration in my world as a blogger and photographer. However I took it for what it is and decided it wasn’t all chaos.  It was a good excuse to kickback and take a step away from my own art. Give it time and just let it breathe.

Taking a step back has lead to other creative outlets and fresh ideas. I’ve always been a creative person and I have my mom to thank for that. My mind is busy coming up with new projects to execute. Any other artist would know exactly what I mean. It’s a constant process. My hands always have to be busy creating.  So instead of putting all my energy into a computer that crashed (which I tend to do), I decided to shift my focus on to another art of mine – beading and sewing. 

I never really was exposed to beading while I was growing up. I would find my mom on her sewing machine altering clothes and creating costumes. My slavey class with Maragret Vandell and Angie Matto often consists of working on mini culturally focused projects to take home but that was the extent of it.

One day in my teenage years, I decided I needed to learn. I wanted to learn. And I want to be a really good beader. (Dene Goals!)

So I dug out all of my mother’s beads that have been stashed away for some time. I claimed them for myself and she was happy to share any knowledge and tricks she had.

My mother is also a very creative person; she could take anything and make it into something bigger and better. Anyone that has been close to our family over the years knows that Joyce can take an idea and make it happen. From when I was a preteen she encouraged me to sew, bead, embroider, create, be good and do good.  But it wasn’t until this year that I really picked it up consistently.

In her teenage years, my mom would use a loom to bead and would create beaded belts, guitar straps, headbands, wallets, etc. If it wasn’t for her encouragement, I probably wouldn’t be where I’m at today (in all aspects of life). She would often travel to other communities and pick up patterns, material, beads, looms, fur, etc. for me to use to practice and keep me intrigued.

I figured if I wanted to pass that tradition down to my children and be good at it then it’s best that I start beading when I had the time. The beginning was a frustrating process, the lines weren’t completely straight and the control freak in me had a hard time accepting that I wasn’t good at it right away… but I persevered anyway.

I developed a huge bin of beading supplies and it quickly became the bin of unfinished projects. They just kept piling up. I had unfinished key chains, change purses, and many uppers. (Projects that didn’t make the cut.) I’m sure many of you would agree that it’s hard to work on a project you don’t completely love. 

 

So the moment that I decided I wanted to take on a large beaded project – dedicate time, put some effort into it and make sure that I finish it – was the moment my lifelong best friend told me she was pregnant. I knew I wanted to create something special for her and my soon to be niece. Right off the bat I knew what I was going to do. I was going to make her a baby belt. I didn’t tell her what I was doing, it was going to be a surprise. 

I got a friend to cut out and draw up a baby belt. (Thank you Tanya!) I started on this baby belt in December 2016 and gave it to my best friend soon after her sweet baby girl arrived in February 2017. I worked many late nights on it; lay the beads down, tac it down with two needles… and then take it all apart in frustration. The hardest thing about it was choosing the colour combinations… and having all the pink and purple bead colours rub off. I would often sigh out loud because I would become so mad. This went on for weeks but I absolutely loved that my mind and hands were kept busy during the very cold Yellowknife winter nights. As I progressed on this project, it all started to come to life. I couldn’t believe that I could bead a large project like a baby belt!

During this time I turned out to be that girl who would pick up everyone’s bead work and examine it. If you beadwork on your table, I would sit there and watch you sew or better yet, join you. If you were wearing moccasins, I would kneel down to look at your feet. I would look at the knots. I would touch the beads. I would even pick it up to smell it if it was sewn on moose hide. I was determined.

I finished the baby belt in record time and delivered it to my best friend. She was shocked. I was shocked that I actually finished it. There was no words just pure excitement between both of us. Then I was hooked! I couldn’t stop nor did I want to stop.

I knew if I wanted to be an amazing beader then I would have to practice, practice and practice some more. I convinced my sister (who has gone to school for fashion design) shortly after I was done the baby belt to figure out a way to make graduation stole for my mother. Like I’ve said, my mother is driven and can do anything she puts her mind to. Two years ago, she decided to take a Language Revitalization Diploma program to learn Dene Zhatie, to revive the dene language of the Deh Cho. We are all so proud of her for  sticking through the tough times and finishing this program. Next week she’ll be walking the stage in an honour ceremony in our hometown surrounded by people who love her. I knew she needed something special to wear to this ceremony, it was a no brainer – she needed a traditional garment sewn with love to proudly wear when she receives her diploma. 

It took me about 4 weeks to bead her graduation stole. Every bead tacked down with positive thoughts and well wishes. I took it everywhere I went in a small tupperware bin with many tubes of delica beads and bended beading needles. It came with me on work trips From Yellowknife to Toronto and everywhere in between; it has seen many airports, hotel rooms, ferry rides, road trips and campsites. I guess you can say I take after my mom – if I want to accomplish anything, you bet I’ll get it done.

Last week my sister and I surprised her with the graduation stole. It took my sister about 2 hours to sew it together; she whipped it up like nobodies business. My mom opened it up and gasped for air – again almost no words, just pure excitement. 

I will forever consider myself a beginner when it comes to beading, embroidery or any traditional art. There is still so much to learn! This art has taught me to be patient, especially when you’re blue in the face from frustration, and to be supportive, by teaching others what you know and to encourage them to pick up their unfinished projects or to begin new ones. These projects have given me so much pride, I feel connected to my ancestors and grounded as an indigenous person.

I’ve learned to see the good in my computer failing on me. I would have never picked up the needle and thread otherwise. I’m back to capturing moments with my family and shooting photography for myself. Always choose to see the good in every bad situation. Hopefully one day I’ll be back to creating scenes with models and capturing families but in the meantime, you can find me beading!

Shawna McLeod

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Yellowknife known as Sǫ̀mbak’è (money place)

I daydream a lot about the North.

Perhaps it is because of all the stories my dad has told me about when he worked up there in his twenties. My dad still has a beautiful hand-made parka which he bought when he was up North. It has got to be at least 40 years old. From what I can remember, he worked on a ship, spending time in Tuktoyaktuk, Inuvik, Yellowknife, Hay River, and many other places in the territories. Even though my dad denies it, I’m pretty sure that I’ve got some half-siblings somewhere up North (good thing my dad doesn’t do the internet and to my aunties out there who read this – shhhh). It was a time in his youth when he had money, no wife, and their was lots of work up in the territories during the 60s. For example, the mining industry near Yellowknife was thriving.

It looks as though someone took their finger and dug it into the earth and drew that river.

It could be that I am drawn to the North because of the stories my friend Elaine shared with me during our time at the University of Victoria. She’s from Fort McPherson. She told me about the caribou, geese, and life on the Peel River. And for a short while, my son and her nephew were pen pals. Adorable. We need to start that up again.

Images of life up there were almost entirely conceivable after watching Ice Lake Rebels, Arctic Air and Ice Road Truckers. Ha. Joking. No, it was Shawna, Caroline, and Shayla’s images from their home communities which drew me to take my family to Yellowknife for Spring Break. I know – even Shawna’s mom thought we were a bit strange spending our Spring Break up North. But with friends and family living up there and the chance to show my West Coast babies a REAL winter, we did it. And all of us southerners fell in love with the North. We fell hard. Honestly, how could you not? So much sunshine and no need to worry about slathering the kids with sunscreen because you are layered upon layer with clothing to stay warm. No heat stroke. It was wonderful.

-10C is better for my family than 30C.

We got to stay on a houseboat with a couple of those Ice Lake Rebels, Stephan and Allyce, at Vee Lake. What’s up with all these reality shows? We drove on ice roads. We went snowmobiling. We made snow forts and demolished snow forts, we saw the Aurora Borealis while we felt our hands and feet freezing. My sons adopted a new uncle.  We got snowed in, learned a bit about kite skiing and we learned our most valuable lesson – you must remember to plug in your vehicle when it is -30C overnight. Whoops. Wait, the valuable lesson I took from staying on their houseboat was how much we waste water and electricity in our homes on the grid. My kids loved not having to wash their hands after every time they used the compost toilet with the pee and poo hole. Don’t worry, I was there reminding them about the hand sanitizer.

Houseboat at Vee Lake.

Isn’t that snow so pretty?

This kid isn’t tired of me taking his photos all the time, yet.

He loves having a mom as a photographer.

I googled how to take photos of Northern Lights and this was my first image. I was so excited that I forgot to lower my ISO and adjust my shutter speed.

We woke up around 1am to see the Aurora Borealis and let me tell you it was freeeezing cold. I couldn’t stop clicking my shutter release because the lights were moving quickly. It was beautiful.

Meet Dora the dog.

Afterwards, we stayed with my husband’s cousin and his lovely family. They invited us into their home and we are will be forever grateful for their hospitality. I gave them the option to throw us out if we were out of hand but they actually kept us around. At their home, we got to watch the cousins bond with each other which was a memorable experience for all. I also earned my aunty pin: sent kid out into freezing temperature with rubber boots and those silly stretchy mittens (she had me convinced that all her other gear was wet and she’d be okay), woke toddler up from afternoon nap by walking into her room and banging open the door and abruptly turning on the lights, forgot to change toddlers poopy bum, listened to the kids talk non stop about poo, took lots of pictures, bruised up my knees crawling after baby in the kid tunnels at the ice castle and tried to earn trust from the sweet & spicy niece who wouldn’t have anything to do with me until I came home with a beaded pink necklace. Then she told me we were best friends. I knew the pink beads would work. Our family took us to see the Northern Heritage Centre where the kids ran through and spent most of the visit trying on homemade “Northern style” clothing. I went shopping for some Northern wear for myself at Weaver & Devore and Just Furs. Let me just mention here that I can still smell the smoked moose hide and feel the soft seal skin on my skin. My husband and I went on a date to the Salvation Army Thrift Store where I saw an old man wearing beautiful beaded moccasins with galoshes as he spoke to his wife in their language. I found a stylish mustard coloured sweater vest and my husband bought some Stephen King books. We then went for a walk though the mall which was a good representation of the changes in the North. Afterwards we walked holding mittened hands to do some t-shirt shopping at the family owned Erasmus Apparel. Best date yet because honestly we don’t get many (dates, that is). Our last couple of days were spent going to Aurora Village where we did touristy things like being instructed on how to roast a marshmallow by an Australian tour guide, drank hot chocolate in a teepee, tobogganed down a man made hill, and went for a lovely dog sled ride while listening to my kids complain about the dogs farting.

Our cousins and Brody’s wall of drawings.

Those moccasins with all that moose hair tufting!

Look there is a moose and you can even see the drool.

Astum, Astum!

My husband never gets tired of me asking him to pose for another photo.

This snowcastle was impressive. To see more photos you can read Caroline’s blog post from last year’s Snowking’s festival. They change the design every year.

We loved every moment about our trip up North. It went by so quickly that Shawna and I had the good intentions of collaborating on something but the only thing we collaborated on was attending a Booty exercise class (yassss did we ever burn it while looking like monkeys) and then talking about parenting and photography over a cup of hot cocoa with a peppermint tea bag. Shawna and I hadn’t seen each other since we finished our diplomas in photography at Western Academy in Victoria, BC. Back then she was fresh out of high school (perhaps not that fresh) and I was already pregnant with my second son. Over the years, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing her grow as a photographer but also as a young woman and now mother. All these connections are so important for the growth of my young family and for me, as an artist, friend, mother and aunty.

Look – it’s the talented and lovely Shawna McLeod.

These are a few more stories about the North, that I can add to my daydreams for years to come. While my children can share their own stories about that time we went to Yellowknife for Spring Break.

We miss you.

*In the Dogrib language, the city is known as Sǫ̀mbak’è (Sawm-ba Kay) (money place)

-Amanda Laliberte