More Métis turning to beading during pandemic for therapy and connecting to culture

·3 min read

In the midst of the harsh reality of a modern pandemic, some Métis people are soothing themselves with a traditional practice they say is also helping them connect to their Indigenous identity.

Many Métis folks are turning to beading as a therapeutic practice as the pandemic creates time for people to try new things, says Dr. Kate Elliott, chairperson of Métis Women B.C.

"Beading is one of the ways in which we can spend time in our body and in our spirits, and allow that mind to get some rest," she said.

Beadwork from traditional Métis culture is unique because it combines two influences — French embroidery and Indigenous beading practices. Métis beadwork patterns also incorporate imagery from nature, such as flowers.

Ashley Slobodian, a 32-year old Métis woman, only found out about her Métis ancestry a few years ago. As she started to reconnect with her community and culture she said beading was a bridge to filling a hole she had in her life.

After father died in April, she turned to beading as a therapy. She said although she doesn't believe turning off your emotions is the best way to heal, it helps her focus on something other than her pain.

Submitted by Ashley Slobodian
Submitted by Ashley Slobodian

"You might be at a point in your life where you don't want to sit there and be sad or you don't want to sit there and feel certain things," Slobodian said. "So it's kind of a good — I don't want to call it a distraction — but it is definitely therapeutic."

Submitted by Ashley Slobodian
Submitted by Ashley Slobodian

Krista Lee, a 42-year-old Métis woman in Cranbrook in southeastern B.C. found out she was Métis when she was 16 and has been able to reconnect with her culture after getting a job at the Rocky Mountain Métis Association.

"It's been a learning process and yeah, it's been a crazy year with just even learning my work route, diving deep and diving more further into my roots and starting to get to know certain family members that I've never met before," she said. "It's been a journey."

Lee also agrees that beading puts her in a meditative state and has helped reduce her anxiety over the past year as the pandemic worsened her panic attacks.

Elliott adds that the new wave of beaders means that beading is changing.

"Some of our young artisans, are women and men, who have really been able to blend some of more traditional beadwork with more contemporary art as well."

Métis beadwork has been evolving for centuries. What began as a way to merge settler and Indigenous culture in craft, has evolved beyond embroidering flowers on imported silk to being exported from Canada to Europe.

Submitted by Krista Lee
Submitted by Krista Lee

Since discovering beading, Slobodian has also discovered a primarily online community where people offer support and share their excitement over the craft.

In February, Slobodian hopes to expand on that community by hosting virtual beading workshops.

"I think that's the biggest thing is, you know, connecting with people like that, who maybe already have connections to their Métis roots, especially for people like me who don't," she said.

Tap below to hear the complete interview with Ashley Slobodian on CBC's The Early Edition: