'Beading is a learning journey': Haudenosaunee beadwork artist

·4 min read

When Niquita Thomas beads, it brings her joy and happiness and allows her to express herself through creativity.

Thomas is Lower Cayuga from the Six Nations of the Grand River. She was born and raised in Ottawa and now lives in Timmins working as a part-time crisis counsellor.

Recently, Thomas made a post in a local Facebook group asking where she can display her beadwork. The post has garnered more than 200 likes and over 70 comments. Thomas said she didn’t expect to receive such a response.

“I’m very excited to see a lot of people here like that stuff. I wasn’t expecting to get so much feedback but it did make me happy,” she said. “It’s very exciting, it makes me very happy being included, being noticed for what I do.”

Thomas has been beading for almost two years.

Her grandmother taught her how to bead when she was younger, but at the time Thomas found it difficult to understand and do.

When Thomas was studying the Indigenous Community Service program at Willis College Ottawa, she had a project that had her go out of her comfort zone. Thomas and her classmates went to a beading workshop at a friendship centre in Ottawa. She did it but she still found it hard.

Then, she tried beading at home and it worked out.

“Beading is a learning journey. It teaches you patience, persistence. It teaches you to love what you can make,” she said.

Beading connects Thomas, who's Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), to her culture. For her, it was also a way to deal with grief when her grandmother died two years ago.

“My grandma loved to bead. It’s something that reminds me of her and I want to keep doing it because of that and because I like it,” she said.

Thomas also comes from a family of beaders.

“I’m just trying to live up to my family’s name. I have big shoes to fill,” she said.

Thomas likes improving her work, studying other artists’ work and learning from them.

Her craft has been shipped to Canada and U.S. In her work, she can use flat stitch, raised beadwork and fringe techniques. Thomas also likes using natural materials like animal fur, claws, teeth and bones, birch bark or porcupine quills.

Sometimes, beading can take her an hour. Other times, she can spend six hours beading and losing track of time.

“I put on music, a movie or a show. Sometimes, I want to sit in silence,” she said.

To bead, you need to be in a good head space as you bring your energy into the work, Thomas said.

“You can’t force things in beadwork. If it’s not going to work, it’s not going to work,” she said giving examples of how there can be a knot in the middle of the beadwork, a design gets messed up or beads keep breaking. “It gets frustrating because you just want to bead.”

Beading has brought many opportunities to her despite the pandemic.

Last year, one of her art pieces was displayed at Métèque, an exhibition place in Montreal. She also made video tutorials for Create To Learn on beading basics, jewelry-making using animal parts and wood-burning basics.

Before moving to Timmins, Thomas lived in Ottawa, Cape Breton Island and Calgary. She moved to the city this summer and she finds the local nature inspiring.

“I like nature and I like going outside. I just go outside, I see colours and I’m like I’m going to go home and make something now,” she said.

What Thomas doesn’t make is regalia or sacred items. She mainly makes earrings, necklaces and decorative pieces, all ranging in sizes.

Last year, she started doing monthly sales. She would spend all month making various items and she would sell them at the end of the month. Her next sale will be held at the end of November.

Thomas loves everything about beading.

“Beading makes me so happy and it brings me joy. And I can create and I can feel like I'm doing something," she said.

Thomas' work can be found here.

Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com

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