Meghan Akiwenzie has found peace and healing in beadwork.
The Northern College student, workshop teacher and artisan says she dismissed a lot of the good her craft could bring into her life when she was younger.
She first started beading in high school when she attended an Indigenous focused secondary school program.
“I saw it as just something to do,” says Akiwenzie. “I didn’t see the therapeutic value in it, I didn’t see the spiritual or emotional or mental necessity behind doing something like that.”
Since reconnecting with the art and her culture, she says the confidence beading has helped her unlock and the peace it brings her isn’t always obvious.
“I can sit with friends and just bead for hours, and we don’t have to say anything,” says Akiwenzie. “We’re relational beings, it’s very simple and I like that.”
Akiwenzie says she always had access to ceremonies but it was never present in her family or her day-to-day life.
“It wasn’t something we did often,” she says. “I had danced when I was little.”
While she was born and grew up in Sudbury, her family is a part of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation which is located around Sarnia.
Her reconnection with beading happened when she moved to Timmins and attended a workshop at the Timmins Museum: NEC.
“The lady who gave the workshop, I saw her in passing at a powwow and was able to tell her that I was able to start my own business,” says Akiwenzie.
The museum workshops were a step on her path, she says, and their influence on her brought her to the point she’s at now.
“A year later, after that workshop, I started teaching at the museum myself,” she says. “It was nice to see everything come full circle.”
When she moved to Timmins, she found a sense of community that helped her grow, including getting involved with Project Warrior, a fashion and style event through the Timmins Native Friendship Centre, with Tony Miller.
“We had met at school and we talked about his dream of modern fashion incorporated with Indigenous elements and bringing that to life,” she says. “It goes back to community and having a sense of community.”
That community gave Akiwenzie a push to expand what she was doing, and she opened commissions.
“Project Warrior really helped me find my style, and that was the push of confidence I needed to start doing one-of-a-kind pieces for people.”
She recognizes the effect generational trauma had on her life and her family, and she’s working to help herself and others heal from those experiences.
“I had family attend residential school, I think that’s a basic understanding of any Indigenous person you meet,” she says. “Either it’s the '60s Scoop, residential schools or just the experience with racism in general, and it was really painful for my family and because of that, they were doing the best with what they have.”
“It’s genocide. It’s colonialism,” she says. “When I began doing beadwork, I felt like an imposter because I didn’t feel like I was Indigenous enough, and it had a lot to do with my identity and the societal pressure of what it means to be Indigenous.”
Her hope to help those facing these issues has informed her education as well, as she is studying social service work at Northern College.
“I’m hoping to go on to Algoma University to do my personal support worker program,” she says. “The beauty of social service work is that you can make a commitment to the profession as a whole, but there are so many fields you can enter.”
Akiwenzie’s work continues as she gets set to teach another workshop with the Timmins museum in February on how to create beaded lanyards, as well as opening her commissions for unique beadwork pieces.
She says she never dreamed that something she started as a high school student would lead to her own business, and teaching others about the art form and the meanings behind it.
“Art is subjective, it’s for many different people.”
Akiwenzie stressed that her workshops are for everyone who is interested, as long as they are respectful of where and who the form came from, and of the importance of the materials that can be involved.
“A lot of people will come to me and say ‘well, I’m not Indigenous, can I bead?’ and there is a very clear difference between appropriating and creating,” she said. “The most important thing is to understand who they came from, to be mindful about the respect that has to come for those things.”
See Akiwenzie's creations on Facebook at Divine Noodiin Creations.
Amanda Rabski-McColl, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com