I identify as a white settler. I was educated in the Canadian schooling system. I must acknowledge that my background, education, and other aspects of my positionality have informed biases that have shaped my understanding of settler colonialism. I recognize that my positionality has influenced my understanding of this article’s subject matter. 

2020 was a year of unprecedented challenge, and many of us, myself included, have struggled to maintain our wellness in the face of these new obstacles. For Rachel, a member of Garden River First Nation and a Queen’s alum, this quest for wellness led to the birth of Heartberry Beads, her jewellery business.

The name Heartberry refers to strawberries and their importance as women’s medicine. Originally a nickname for a group of Indigenous women that Rachel is part of, Rachel chose this name in order to emphasize the importance of community to her beadwork. Rachel learned beadwork through sitting in circle, which is a non-hierarchical environment that fosters community by keeping open hearts and open minds. Her passion for beading was and continues to be supported by her community, and the name Heartberry keeps this in mind as her business grows.

While at Queen’s, she attended weekly bead circles led by Karen Lawford. Karen is an Indigenous educator at Queen’s and was one of twelve recipients of the Indspire Award in 2020. Rachel emphasizes her importance in teaching her many of the skills that allowed her to start Heartberry Beads. While Rachel is happy to see Karen gaining recognition on a national level, she wishes Karen’s incredible work as an educator received more attention and support at Queen’s.

In addition to fostering her connection to her community, beading also helps Rachel with her personal wellness. Her most mindful and calm state is when she is beading, which allows her to de-stress and counteract anxiety. Beading serves as a form of medicine by promoting physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional healing. According to Rachel’s cultural teachings, this allows her to achieve overall wellbeing by being attentive to all four corners of her medicine wheel (physical, spiritual, mental, emotional) simultaneously.

This quest for wellness forms the core intention of Rachel’s business and art. In addition to made to order and custom pieces, Rachel creates collections of several pieces with a cohesive theme. When creating these collections, Rachel’s priority is not always the aesthetics of the collection but on its capacity for healing– both for herself and others. She says that each piece in a collection heals her in a different way, by reducing anger or stress, and some of this medicine stays with the piece when it is purchased. Says Rachel, “I try and send a little bit of medicine out in the world, and I hope everyone benefits from it.”

As Heartberry Beads grows, wellness will continue to play an integral role. When asked about her long-term goals for the business, Rachel emphasized that she wants to maintain the momentum she has found during the past several months. While part of this will include maintaining her consumer base, her main priority is her creative momentum. It’s common for artists who run small businesses to become burnt out and lose their initial passion for their art, but by continuing to focus on wellness, Rachel hopes to maintain her creative drive. When asked if custom work makes it more difficult to maintain this creative intention, Rachel said no. While the inspiration from custom work comes from the customer rather than her own ideas, she is often able to incorporate her own creative elements into the pieces. She also appreciates custom orders because she knows that the customer will value the finished product that much more.

In regard to other goals, Rachel wants to make her business as environmentally sustainable as possible. She is currently working on reducing her footprint, particularly regarding packaging and shipping, in a financially sustainable way for her business. She also wants to work towards managing the supply chains of her materials to ensure they are ethically sourced from Indigenous suppliers. As an Indigenous entrepreneur, she recognizes the importance of supporting Indigenous businesses and wants to make sure she is doing the same as she continues to pursue her career goals.

While Rachel sees beading as an opportunity to foster intercultural connection and appreciation, she says she still sees some concern from non-Indigenous people that engaging with her work will be considered cultural appropriation. She is often asked whether it is okay for non-Indigenous individuals to wear her work. The short answer is yes; her work is contemporary rather than ceremonial and has no tribal affiliation or nation-specific designs. In fact, wearing her artwork and supporting Heartberry Beads and other Indigenous businesses is one of the best things you can do to become a better ally to Indigenous communities.

Rachel notes the importance of word choice when speaking about her business and beading in general. Beadwork is often considered crafting rather than art, but it is essential to critically reflect on why this is. Why is one culture’s artwork considered craft when another is considered a masterpiece? What does this say about the knowledge that we value? As a society, we value western art forms and knowledge over those of other cultures because this is what we have been taught we should value. This indicates that the world of art is not free from the effects of colonization, and consequently, it needs to be decolonized. We need to make an active effort to dismantle the cultural framework that determined these designations. 

When reflecting on the reception that her business has received over the past several months, Rachel says she has been overwhelmed by the support. She still finds it surprising that people are interested in her beadwork in particular. One glance at her art, though, and it is clear that she should not be at all surprised. To see more of Rachel’s work, follow her on Instagram @manidoominensikaan and visit her website www.heartberrybeads.com.company.site/.

Header Source: Heartberry Beads

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