THUNDER BAY – Whitefish Bay First Nation’s Caitlyn Bird is an artisan whose journey as a craftsperson started when she returned to the powwow trail a few years ago.
“I guess it started when I started travelling to pow wows again,” Bird said. “I’ve always danced pow wows since I was a baby, but I took a couple years off after my grandfather died.”
Bird explained that after experiencing the loss, she took time away from dancing but in 2010 she returned.
“I started dancing again, and started travelling and doing the powwow circuit in the USA and in Canada, and I was seeing all of the beadwork there,” Bird said. She explained that the beauty of the beadwork really struck a cord inside her, and she took an interest in creating her own artwork through beading.
“That’s when I started to bead, it was the beginning of my beading career,” Bird said.
The first item that Bird ever beaded was a small circle that contained her initials inside. She said she was impressed that she could create art from beads, and it motivated her to keep trying.
“After that, I started doing jewelry and went into other stuff like outfit pieces. Now I’ve kind of just branched into everything and I do anything, whether it’s beadwork for clothing, jewelry, or powwow regalia,” she said.
Bird, who is a student at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, works on her beadwork when she has the time between her studies. She finds beadwork both relaxing and also that it can be profitable.
“It really relaxes me, it keeps me grounded too,” Bird said of the process. “I feel like beading is rewarding in the sense that you learn about your culture and your history,” Bird said. She explained that beading made her feel more connected to her culture as an Indigenous person.
“It’s important to me because it is culture representation, and it connects me to an art form that my ancestors and my previous family members did,” she said.
Bird creates items and takes custom orders for her work, which she completes in between her studies and on breaks.
“I’ll sell items, but I get orders in, too. People will usually just message me or call me to set up something. At the moment, that’s all I am doing right now is completing orders,” she said.
The money she earns from her work allows her to help fund trips she takes when she is done school for the year. “I like to travel to different places when I’m done school, so I put all of my money from my work into savings for those trips.”
Bird’s skills as an artisan have improved since she first began. She admits that beadwork can be difficult at first.
“At first it was difficult. You get discouraged because it’s not the best, but I think with practice you just get better and better,” Bird explained. “I think that the challenging thing to overcome was the whole idea that the beadwork is not going to be perfect right away.”
Bird explained that it takes time to learn the techniques used in beading and to master them. “You don’t know everything when you first start but as you grow with beading you learn the techniques and it does get easier and easier.”
Bird said that she has customers of all races who wear her creations, and has even sent orders out to California.
“It was interesting once I started doing jewelry; it was going out to California. A lot of people from all tribes, especially in the USA, are very interested in my work and it’s rewarding to know that my artwork is getting out there, not just in Canada but in the US as well,” Bird said.
Bird says the compliments and feedback she gets about her work only boosts her confidence as a crafter, and inspires her to keep creating. She said that it is important for Indigenous people to stay connected to their culture, and that beading is a good way to do that especially for the youth.
“I think it’s really important for youth to bead because it can give a person confidence when they know they have the ability to bead and create. The most important thing is that it keeps you connected to your culture,” she said.
Bird is currently in the early stages of planning both a business profile on social media and a blog for her creations, but she can be contacted now through her personal Facebook page about her work.