The Life of a Beader
I bead but I write this for all Lakota artists.
I learned to hustle from beading from my mom. According to her, she used to bead for my diapers and milk. She learned to bead from going to school at St. Mary’s in Springfield, where she also learned how to eat a proper meal with five different forks or something like that. I remember her beading as I properly ate her beads.
I learned the basics of beading at Pine Ridge High School from Bryan Brewer, Sr. I soon begin one of my first jobs at Sioux Trading Post in Rapid City before it was owned by Prairie Edge.
I worked mail order and talked to people from all over the world everyday. It was one of my favorite jobs and being as young as I was, I really had no idea there were jobs in this world that just sucked.
Well that was 17 years ago and I have had many jobs that sucked and many jobs I enjoyed. The last time I worked was for the tribe. I was RIFed, or laid off. The only two times I worked for the tribe I was laid off, so therefore I depended on the peanuts Lakota Country Times pays me and my beadwork. (Just teasing Amanda) I knew when I moved home it would be hard to find employment. But it was more important to me to be around my family and my culture.
I would never want to lose my culture through my artwork. It is a part of me that I take to the heart. For every item I sell there really are blood, sweat, and tears.
I guess to the person who is buying it, it is a beautiful piece of artwork. To the person who stayed up late making it, it was dinner for five. Or part of the light bill or propane. Or the ever famous last words “I need gas money.”
(Sometimes as an artist you really do need gas money but don’t want to say it because it’s so cliché.)
What people here don’t realize is that when you move away to other reservations, the culture is often fading. Most people on other reservations don’t know how to bead or it is a part of their past. Most of those are also “per cap” Indians who have the ability to buy their culture. This works out great for people like me, who depend on their artwork.
I am happy to say that the struggle of hustling my beadwork is about to taper off as I have been employed by The Heritage Center at Red Cloud School. It is different for me to see things from this side of the hustle, but I know how it is. I have been there. Now after being out of a 9 to 5 for about two years, I am happy to say that I love my job.
The local artwork is beautiful and always amazes me.
Remember the next time you buy a piece of beadwork, quillwork, carving, painting, or starquilt from someone, they put a piece of themselves into it for their family. Here on our reservation and the surrounding reservations the life of the Lakota artist may be a tough one, sometimes hard and humbling, but we share ourselves with the world through our art.