Beading helped Natasha Martin reclaim her Indigenous identity

·4 min read

Natasha Martin believes in the importance of sharing knowledge because that’s how traditions and culture are kept alive.

Martin is a Taykwa Tagamou Nation member who lives in Cochrane and works with the Omuhskego Nation Rebuilding Initiative.

At the age of 42, she says she still feels 27. Enjoying life and not letting little things stress her help Martin stay young at heart.

“Since I turned 40, I don’t let the little things bother me,” she says.

Martin grew up in Moose Factory, a remote northern community she calls home. For her, it was the best upbringing: having the freedom to go where she wanted, having cousins around the corner, living on the reserve and being at her parents’ and grandparents’ houses.

She loved it so much that she returned to Moose Factory to raise her son before he started school.

The feeling of being on the boat, crossing the river and smelling the water is a way for her to connect to the land. Martin, who struggled with her Indigenous identity, never understood that connection until she was in university majoring in Indigenous studies.

The first year of university was very hard because she had to decolonize her thoughts and worldview.

“One thing I used to get a lot growing up, ‘You don’t look Native.’ That used to hurt my feelings,” she says.

Martin is a beader. Her great-grandmother and her late aunt were a part of her beading journey. Martin remembers going to one of the beading circles with her great-grandmother and listening to the conversations happening within the circle.

Beading helped Martin get through university and reclaim who she was. As a single mom and a student, she didn’t have much money, but beading helped her buy a PlayStation for her son.

“I always appreciated this gift of beading,” she says.

One time, she was working on an earring and a bead stuck out. She didn’t realize it until she was finished. The woman told her to leave it because everything they make has a spirit.

“Now, when I bead and I create, I let the imperfections be because that’s where the spirit is. And we have to appreciate that,” Martin says.

She implements many different teachings she’s learned from beading in other aspects of her life. If something doesn’t work out, that’s OK, that’s how it’s supposed to be, she says.

Martin holds workshops to teach anyone who wants to bead. One of her passions is to share knowledge with as many people as possible.

Every other week, she holds Zoom beading circles. The circles provide a safe space for women to come together and hold conversations.

"It's such a great feeling helping people reconnect with our culture, our language. If I can help in that little way, my job is done," Martin says. “It’s so gratifying. I love it."

She worked for Mushkegowuk Council for four years before she made a hard decision to leave and apply to the Assembly of First Nations. Her mentor Vern Cheechoo was understanding and supported her.

“To me, the Assembly of First Nations was my ultimate goal. That’s why I went to university so I could work at the Assembly of First Nations and work at that national level,” she says.

After the rigorous three-stage process, Martin was hired to do community engagement with all treaties.

But as the pandemic hit, it was hard to engage and she realized it wasn’t her time yet. So, she made another hard decision to leave.

“I worked so hard to get there and making that choice to leave was even harder. I really struggled with that,” she says.

Martin then returned to work with Mushkegowuk Council.

“I love Mushkegowuk, I love working there. It’s the people, it’s more personal,” she says. “That’s what makes it so easy is because I love to do it.”

Martin gives credit to her parents who taught her and her three siblings to shoot for the stars and not to settle. With everything she’s achieved so far, she couldn’t have done it without her family, she says.

“With every monument that I hit within my life, my dad and my mom continue to tell us to celebrate things like that. I’m always thinking, 'What’s my next step?'” she says.

Martin says she’s curious and hopeful to see what her future holds. She doesn’t exclude a possibility she might try politics in the future.

“I feel like I’m only starting,” she says. “I’m really excited for things to come.”

Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,

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