by Emily Hearn
When European settlers came to Turtle Island and began marrying the First Peoples here, an entirely unique nation was born. The children of these first marriages had to uncover their own place in this world. It was a complicated task, to balance the almost oppositional heritages passed down to them, and then to pass their distinct new culture down to their own children.
Navigating the territory between the old ways of Indigenous ancestors and the new ideas of the European immigrants was by no means easy. At times, attempts at forging an identity in the country were a brutal endeavour. Villages were burned down, leaders were hanged, battles were waged, and children were snatched away to residential schools. Despite repeated attempts to stifle the emerging culture, the young people proved resilient. But still, it is difficult to build a brand new culture, especially in the face of such resistance.
And so we, the Métis, beaded ourselves into the fabric of Canada’s history.
At this point, many Indigenous women were decorating clothing and items with dyed porcupine quills, which mostly limited them to making geometric shapes and designs. However, Métis children learned from the Grey Nuns (soeurs grises) how to do French silk embroidery, which emphasized the delicate floral patterns that were very popular in Europe.
A purple quillwork and beadwork flower by 4 Sisters Métis Beadwork.
The Métis combined this new design knowledge with the traditional quillwork used in the communities of the First Peoples. From this blend, the distinctive Métis beadwork style emerged. They would use coloured seed beads to create vibrant, textured images of flowers, which stood out from the styles that had existed prior. Thus, the Métis became known as “the flower beadwork people.”