Mohawk women in Ottawa to demonstrate the lost art of raised beadwork

A group of Mohawk women are in Ottawa showing off their raised beadwork at an Algonquin pavilion.


A group of Mohawk women are in Ottawa showing off their raised beadwork at an Algonquin pavilion.

Raised beadwork is an Iroquoian tradition that nearly died out.

It came back in the 1990s.

The joke with raised beadwork is to not be afraid of heights.

Because through needle, thread and bead, a skilled artisan can create a magnificent 3-D effect.

“Some of them look like they’re alive, like the colours of them, they look perfect,” said beader Margaret Standup. “Like you’d see that in nature somewhere, you know.”

But just thirty years ago it would have been hard to see works like these.

Standup remembers finding her great-grandmother’s pieces.

And then – taking them apart to see how they were put together.

“My mother, my grandmother never picked it up. they didn’t bead,” said Standup. “But my great grandmother did so I ended up kind of dissecting everything, which kinda kick myself for doing now because they’re old artifacts.”

Standup said she resorted to such a tactic because raised beadwork was in danger of becoming a lost art.

“The people that were doing beadwork at that time were aging,” said fellow beader Jessica Hill. “Maybe didn’t have the resources, maybe losing their sight or something like that. so they really didn’t do a lot of beadwork.”

There was also no longer an economic incentive.

There was a lot of work put into the pieces – for little return.

Hill helped to revive the art in the 1990s when only a handful of people could still bead.

She said it was actually easy to do.

“You just put the beads out and people want to see them, people want to touch them,” Hill told APTN. “They’re beautiful, they’re colourful. and that’s how it started.”

Leith Mahkewa represents a younger generation of Mohawk bead workers.

Her work has won awards at the Santa Fe Indian market.

“It’s through the beads, the spirit in that beads,” said Mahkewa. “There’s something about it. I mean it sounds corny to say there’s a spirit in a glass thing that came over hundreds of years ago. but there’s longevity and there’s history. and there are things that make us who we are.”

If you want any of Mahkewa’s work to purchase, sign up soon.

Executive Producer / Ottawa

Todd Lamirande is Red River Metis. Todd first joined APTN in 2000 as a writer - researcher. He went on to be a videojournalist based in Vancouver. Todd has hosted three programs for APTN News and Current Affairs: the national news, Investigates and Nation to Nation.

5 thoughts on “Mohawk women in Ottawa to demonstrate the lost art of raised beadwork

  1. So beautiful I have found myself going to international Iroquois beading conference for 5-6 yr now
    just love the bead work but I wish I had done this at a younger age !

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