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Preserving history through beadwork project



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The Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center (KOR) recently launched the Kahnawake Beadwork Oral History Project, which seeks to collect, preserve and share the community’s stories and records related to beadwork.

“The purpose of the project is for cultural community enrichment, historical preservation and scholarly research,” said Karonhiióstha Shea Sky, the former cultural development officer at KOR.

The project started when Sky contacted Gerald Reid, a professor of anthropology and sociology at Sacred Heart University, who had completed research on a petition that beadworkers had sent the U.S. Congress in 1898, and asked him to present it at KOR as part of this year’s virtual Cultural Awareness Month.

After the Zoom presentation, Reid had a number of conversations with local beadworkers and others interested in the history of beadwork in Kahnawake.

“The conversations and interest led me to think that a Kahnawake beadwork oral history project might produce a valuable cultural and historical resource, so I approached Karonhiióstha and the KORLCC about this idea,” said Reid.

An oral history is a recorded interview with an individual who has personal knowledge and experience of past events. For this particular project, KOR is looking for individuals who have experience and knowledge about the history, economic, social, political, and cultural importance of Kahnawake beadwork and beadworkers.

According to Sky, the project has amassed four completed interviews thus far. She believes that it is important to preserve these stories that relate so closely to Kahnawake’s history and has shaped the economic and social environment of the community.

“I feel like many people in Kahnawake have beadwork and beading involved in their lives in one way or another, but not a lot of people are aware of the history behind it,” said Sky.


“I think it’s important for the future generations to learn about all dimensions of our community’s history and realize how big of a role beadwork has played in our community,” she continued.

Sky created the website where the stories are being collected through photos and audio and video interviews completed by Reid.

She also helped with creating the submission process, editing the interview questions and the informed consent document.

An advisory board was also created to review and accept submissions and consists of Leith Mahkewa, Lynn Beauvais, Geraldine Standup and Tekaronhiahkhwa Margaret Standup.

“The three initial videos are interviews with members of the advisory board, as they were recognized as people with knowledge and interest of beadwork and history in Kahnawake,” said Shea Sky.

Individuals interested in contributing must go on the KOR website and fill in the informed consent document and the submission form.


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