Beaded poppies are a source of pride, resilience for this Indigenous designer

·2 min read
Some of Crystal Behn's beaded poppies. (Submitted by Crystal Behn - image credit)
Some of Crystal Behn's beaded poppies. (Submitted by Crystal Behn - image credit)

For Crystal Behn, the beaded poppy is a source of pride and resilience.

The Dene and Carrier designer has been making and selling the poppies for Remembrance Day for several years, but said she wasn't aware of Indigenous Veterans Day until only a month ago.

On Nov. 8, Behn and many of her customers will wear the handmade poppies — with beads and porcupine quills sewn onto smoked moose hide — to commemorate Indigenous members of the military who served in the two world wars and the Korean War.

Behn, who is based in Prince George, B.C., says it usually takes her seven to eight hours to make each poppy and sometimes it's challenging to make sure the colours of different materials match.

She says she enjoys the creative process.

"There's a certain pride that goes into each poppy," she told host Carolina de Ryk on CBC's Daybreak North. "Beading is therapeutic to me."

Submitted by Crystal Behn
Submitted by Crystal Behn

She says it's also a way to keep Indigenous heritage alive.

"It's important for me because for many years, Indigenous people weren't allowed to practise a lot of their culture and traditions, so it's important [that] everyone's welcome [to do so]," she said.

"We're in a time where everyone needs to come together. Everyone needs to support each other."

Behn says partial proceeds from her poppies will go to veterans' organizations.

Nisga'a member Monica Kind says she has been Behn's customer for two years and has bought the poppies for herself and her daughter, who has served in the Canadian Army for two decades.

But she also bought the poppies because they represent the challenges both Indigenous people and veterans have faced.

"It was made by an Indigenous woman who has also overcome many, many barriers," said Kind, who lives in in Fort Nelson, B.C. "It represents a famous image of veterans who have also overcome barriers in their life."

Submitted by Crystal Behn
Submitted by Crystal Behn

Nurse Anouk Villemaire — who has been buying and wearing Behn's artworks since 2017 — says donning a beaded poppy during the month of Remembrance Day and Indigenous Veterans Day is an important way to recognize the contributions made by her Indigenous friends' veteran relatives.

"These people have often been and continue to be marginalized by Canadian society, by [the] Canadian government, and yet they still have made such a profound sacrifice," Villemaire said.

She also notes that the beaded poppy is much more durable that the conventional plastic poppy.

Villemaire says she hopes that by wearing beaded poppy, she can help spark more conversations about reconciliation.

LISTEN | Crystal Behn shares her joy of making Indigenous beaded poppies:

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