Tahatie Montour crafted a kustowa entirely made out of hawk feathers for his son, Tahoe Montour, who danced at the Echoes of a Proud Nation Pow-Wow last weekend.
“He’s always happy.… He’s a very kind-hearted person, my son. He always thinks of others,” Tahatie said of Tahoe, who placed third in the smoke dance category for boys aged 6-12.
Hawk feathers represent a good mind, he said. “It has a lot of power, so it’s almost protecting him to keep on being a child and having fun and not have to worry about other things except being happy.”
For every kustowa Tahatie makes, he’s committed to customizing the piece to suit its wearer’s style and personality – one of the challenges of his craft. “It’s always hard to make hats when you’ve never met the person,” he said. But, of course, the one for his son was a no-brainer.
Tahatie traces the roots of his interest in making kustowas back 25 years. Growing up, he attended and danced at the 207 Longhouse and started competing in smoke dance competitions at age 12.
He’d always ask people to make his kustowas, and eventually he began making his own, in part because of how pricey they are, tweaking them to his personal style. Immense patience and sourcing feathers are only a couple of the craft’s demanding aspects.
One of the most influential makers to him and whom he purchased from was Loran Thompson of Akwesasne, whose plume work and feather always stood out to him.
Tahatie uses an assortment of eagle, hawk, turkey, or pheasant feathers – most of which he finds on the side of the road – and makes pieces in line with different styles all across the confederacy.
He also makes horn rattles, bark rattles, and hawk and eagle fans.
Aside from making kustowas for a few other dancers at the powwow, he completed some orders for the Tuscarora Picnic in Lewiston, New York, that was held on the same weekend.
Now 15 years into running his business, Tahoe Designs, Tahatie shows no sign of stopping and finds his fulfilment in his customers’ appreciation of the craft.
“A lot of it is the smiles and the gratitude when people get my hats and they’re so happy with them,” he said. “I make bonds all over the place with a lot of the dancers.”
For beader Shannon Cross, the motivation lies in the same vein.
“I feel honoured that they ask me and that these people are dancing with beadwork that we created,” said Cross, who started beading about seven years back and now runs Cross Beads Designs alongside her husband Kyle Phillips. “I feel honoured, I feel proud.”
A particularly heart-warming moment was when a jingle dancer from Wendake, who had ordered a set from them including a beaded headband, a barrette, hair clips, and earrings, found their booth at the powwow to show off her regalia, ready to dance.
“She was so excited to show us the full outfit,” Cross said. “I think that’s what keeps us going.”
Cross also made a set for a tiny tot dancer, her first one ever, complete with a yoke, arm cuffs, and a pair of moccasins on pink velvet featuring a floral design in tones of yellow, orange, pink, and green, finished off with a white frame.
Cross said she only got acquainted with her Kanien’kehá:ka culture later on in life, which also sparked her interest in regalia and beadwork. “That contributed also to make me feel closer to who I am.”
She credits a lot of the beaders and teachers in Kahnawake for teaching her the craft over the years.
“I never imagined I’d be able to be where I am right now,” she said.
This article was originally published in print on Friday, July 14, in issue 32.28 of The Eastern Door.