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Beading brings people, cultures together


By Brittany Ackerman




Students and faculty gathered in the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center Saturday to make traditional Native American bracelets and practice bead work as part of the First Nations Educational and Cultural Center’s month-long celebration.

Mary Connors, the program assistant coordinator for the FNECC, said she was excited to help organize the workshop as part of November’s recognition of National American Indian Heritage Month. Connors said American Indians have a “rich culture and a dynamic legacy.”  

At the workshop, participants were taught to make bracelets using traditional Native American bead work techniques.

“It is a great way to share and experience the culture firsthand, not just looking at art in a museum,” Connors said.  

Brian Gilley, director of FNECC and an associate professor of anthropology, said the workshop is “a way to engage the community as a bridge-building exercise trying to show the Native American people’s traditions that are interesting.”

Connors said Marilyn Cleveland, the leader of the workshop, is considered an “elder.” Cleveland’s grandmother was an Oklahoma Cherokee, and her father was a White Mountain Apache. Cleveland has worked with the community in different ways and said she enjoys helping IU support Native American people.

Cleveland learned to bead when she was 3 years old.  

“You learn when you can hold a needle in your hand,” Cleveland said.  

Her whole family lived together when she was younger, and they had a quilting frame that they all worked on. The younger children would pull up the needles as they came up and “anyone that was adapt at pulling up needles learned to bead,” Cleveland said.  
Cleveland’s grandmother taught her that each bead carries a prayer. Everything is meaningful in the bead work.

“The design means something, the colors have meaning,” Cleveland said.  

For this reason, she does not sell her jewelry, as it would be similar to selling a part of her religion. She does, however, give her work away as gifts to others and encourage people to learn about her culture by creating their own artwork.  

Darlene McDermott, a first time beader and office coordinator of the African American Arts Institute, said the beading workshop was difficult at first.  

“Once you get to the third or fourth row, a pattern falls into place,” McDermott said.  
“It will surely teach you patience,” Cleveland said as she walked around the room and checked on everybody’s work.  

McDermott suggested watching somebody do the bead work first, asking questions and making sure that it is being done right.

The workshop was a way for people to learn about Native Americans creatively through arts and crafts, Gilley said.

“It is not about a culture being portrayed as victims or part of a dystopia,” he said. “It is a spectacular way for people from different cultures in the community to be together.”

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