Bead Talk

Indigenous Knowledge and Aesthetics from the Flatlands


Sewing new understandings

Indigenous beadwork has taken the art world by storm, but it is still sometimes misunderstood as static, anthropological artifact. Today’s prairie artists defy this categorization, demonstrating how beads tell stories and reclaim cultural identity. Whether artists seek out and share techniques through YouTube videos or in-person gatherings, beading fosters traditional methods of teaching and learning and enables intergenerational transmissions of pattern and skill.

In Bead Talk, editors Carmen Robertson, Judy Anderson, and Katherine Boyer gather conversations, interviews, essays, and full-colour reproductions of beadwork from expert and emerging artists, academics, and curators to illustrate the importance of beading in contemporary Indigenous arts. Taken together, the book poses and responds to philosophical questions about beading on the prairies: How do the practices and processes of beading embody reciprocity, respect, and storytelling? How is beading related to Indigenous ways of knowing? How does beading help individuals reconnect with the land? Why do we bead?

Showcasing beaded tumplines, text, masks, regalia, and more, Bead Talk emphasizes that there is no one way to engage with this art. The contributors to this collection invite us all into the beading circle as they reshape how beads are understood and stitch together generations of artists.


“An evocative, aesthetically gorgeous book that is rich in knowledge, relationality, and experience. Curated with care, rooted in artistic practice and lived experience, and embodying a polyvocal, collaborative spirit, it immerses the reader in the world of Indigenous beadwork on the prairies. Bead Talk carries teachings about decolonial love, healing and medicine, cultural knowledges, political and theoretical modes of action, gendered experience, and more. I can’t think of any other book like this—it is a gift!”

Aubrey Hanson, Director of Indigenous Education, Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary

About the Authors

Carmen Robertson is a Scots Lakota woman with two daughters from in and around the Qu’Appelle Valley in Saskatchewan. She is also an Indigenous Art Historian and the Canada Research Chair in North American Indigenous Art and Material Culture at Carleton University.

Judy Anderson is nêhiyaw from Gordon First Nation, SK. Anderson’s art practice focuses on issues of spirituality, nêhiyaw intellectualizations of the world, relationality, graffiti, colonialism and decolonization. She is Professor of Canadian Indigenous Studio Art in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Calgary.

Katherine Boyer is a Métis, settler, and queer visual artist from Regina, Saskatchewan, currently living and working in Winnipeg, Manitoba at the University of Manitoba School of Art.

Other contributors: Ruth Cuthand, Dayna Danger, Sherry Farrell Racette, Marcy Friesen, Felicia Gay, Franchesca [Fran] Hebert-Spence, Audie Murray, Cathy Mattes

Table of Contents

Foreword – Brenda Macdougall

Who We Are

Introduction – Carmen Robertson, Judy Anderson, and Katherine Boyer

Part I: Conversations

1. Mentoring/Beading – Ruth Cuthand and Marcy Friesen

2. mîkisistahêwin (bead medicine) – Judy Anderson and Audie Murray

3. Parallel Lines Move Along Together: A Beaded Line that Connects Me to You – Katherine Boyer and Dayna Danger

4. The Power of Gathering: Revisiting the Seeds of Ziigimineshin – Franchesca Hebert-Spence and Carmen Robertson

5. Beads, Blood, and Curating Ruth Cuthand’s Art – Felicia Gay and Carmen Robertson

Part II: Essays

6. “Until We Bead Again”: The BU Beading Babe and Embodying Lateral Love and Generous Reciprocity – Cathy Mattes

7. Visiting Kin: Indigenous Flatland Beading Aesthetics – Carmen Robertson

8. If the Needles Don’t Break and the Thread Doesn’t Tangle: Beading Utopia – Sherry Farrell Racette

Afterword: Spreading the Bead Love Far and Wide

University of Manitoba Press is grateful for the support it receives for its publishing program from the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund; the Canada Council for the Arts; the Manitoba Department of Culture, Heritage, and Tourism; the Manitoba Arts Council; and the Aid to Scholarly Publishing Programme.