Virtual beading circle provides space for Indigenous artists to meet, collaborate

·4 min read

​A group of like-minded artists—both professional and amateur— connect for two-hours, twice-a-month in a Zoom session to learn about traditional and contemporary beadwork.

The BYOBeads Beading Circle, which takes place on alternating Thursdays each month, allows a space to gather and collaborate on beadwork projects.

Run by the Toronto-based organization East End Arts in partnership with Native Women in the Arts the circle is facilitated by Adam Garnet Jones, a two-spirit, Métis bead-artist, novelist and film-maker.

Jones says the group typically attracts up to 25 attendees, but is always open for more people to drop in. Each session features a different Indigenous guest artist, some primarily focused on beadwork, with others being multidisciplinary or generalists.

Jones may be best known for his feature film Fire Song, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015, as well as for his novel of the same name, based on the film. Fire Song was awarded the Audience Choice Award at the ImagineNATIVE Film Festival, and picked up awards at three other festivals.

Jones’ own journey into beadwork began three years ago.

“I’ve been a fan of beadwork my whole life, but I always kind of thought that I didn’t really know what I would make,” he said.

While preparing for his wedding, Jones was creating a top to wear for the ceremony that combined many different patches showcasing aspects of nature and animals that “felt like it should be beadwork.”

Jones then ordered beads online the day after he got married and “decided that day that I was going to learn”, he said. “I immediately felt it was something I should’ve been doing my whole life.”

Jones himself says that while he is the main organizer of BYOBeads, he sees himself as more a facilitator than an authority.

“I still think of myself as a baby beader,” he said. “I don’t see myself as the expert in the room by any means.”

Last week’s session was visited by Caitlyn Bird, a bead artist from the Naotkamegwanning First Nation in Northern Ontario.

“One of the things as an artist I try to do is represent my tribe, my people, my family and myself as a 2020 Indigenous woman,” Bird said of her artwork.

It was her first opportunity to be the featured guest on a virtual art event. While in Museum Studies at the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Bird had taught a workshop on creating traditional Ojibwe moccasins, but said it was a vastly different experience this time around and one that likely wouldn’t have come together if not for the virtual set-up.

“It was a unique experience, but considering the times we are in it was very cool,” Bird said. Attendees were from across Canada generally, but it also had participants in California.

Bird is currently working on an upcoming exhibit at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery titled Dakobinaawaswaan: Baby in a Cradleboard, scheduled to open in January 2021. The exhibit features about 500 cradleboards from Indigenous communities across North America.

Jones works with East End Arts program coordinator Adam Barrett to help handle the promotion and logistics of each beading circle and to make sure the event is welcoming and accessible. Participants aren’t required to use video, and the event is free with no long-term commitment attached.

“It’s really for everyone,” Jones said.

While BYOBeads is one resource for those interested in beading, Jones suggests there are other ways for beginners to get involved.

“For people who are just starting out, talking to family and looking at YouTube is as good a place to start out as any,” he said.

The group next meets on Nov. 19, when Lindsay Nixon will be the featured guest. Nixon is a Toronto-based Cree-Métis-Saulteaux McGill University Art History Ph.D. candidate, and an assistant professor in Ryerson University’s department of English.

While the event has just two more sessions scheduled as of right now, Jones is hoping to continue the program as long as there’s still interest.

“I really felt like I found a community [in beadwork] that I’d been looking for. It’s given me a lot of gifts over the years,” Jones said.

For those interested in signing up, the event page is available here. More info can also be found on the East End Arts page.


By Adam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,,