Beading together a sense of identity
Hamilton-based Ojibwe and Métis beader is reconnecting to her Indigenous roots through her beadwork earrings
Growing up in Hamilton her whole life, Oksana Legault knew very little about her Indigenous background. However, through her beaded jewelry business Thirty Wolves Designs that she started on Instagram in September 2020, Legault is slowly reconnecting and beading together her lost Indigenous identity.
Legault is of mixed Ojibwe, Métis and French ancestry. She is also a grandchild of a residential school survivor. As a result of the intergenerational impact of residential schools, she was raised disconnected from her Indigenous heritage and culture.
When people asked about her background, she was taught by her parents to say French-Canadian because they were taught to be ashamed of their Indigenous heritage and knew very little about where they came from.
“I’ve been displaced from my culture, my Ojibwe and Métis culture . . . After my [grandfather attended residential school], all of our culture was lost and my parents know nothing. Especially being in the city, not in our original area, I don’t know much about it. I started [Thirty Wolves Designs] because I found art was fun and I wanted to learn more about my culture,” explained Legault.
Legault began her journey to reclaim her Indigenous identity in 2019 when she signed up for a beading and moccasins workshop led by Justine Woods, a Métis interdisciplinary designer based in Tkaronto, at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto.
Since then, she has continued to hone her beading skills and now creates beautifully crafted beaded earrings which she sells through Thirty Wolves Designs.
The name was inspired by her strong spiritual connection to wolves and her birth date, December 30. The fact that there can be up to 30 wolves in a pack made the name even more perfect.
Her bead designs mostly carry themes of nature as well as inspirations drawn from other art and Indigenous beaders. For example, she has recreated Pedicularis and Indian paintbrush plants, the scenery of the Meziadin Lake in Kitimat, BC and a painting called A Moment of Peace by Ryder Erickson.
Beyond serving as a tool to reconnect with her Indigenous roots, beading has also allowed Legault to liberate herself creatively. Legault has been interested in art since high school and Thirty Wolves Designs provided her with an opportunity and platform to share her creations.
Her most recent launch on March 5 was in collaboration with Wildflower Supply Co., another Hamilton-based jewelry business run by Legault’s high school classmate Jasmine Ellis. This is the second launch of their collaboration featuring wildflower-themed beaded earrings.
The anticipation for the launch and the general support from her audience has been overwhelming. Legault also appreciates the Indigenous beading community who has been continuously sharing knowledge and teaching her more about beading and her culture.
“The Indigenous beading community is a really small, niche community, but at the same time it feels so big because I haven’t had access to my culture personally through my family,” said Legault.
As with all new businesses in the COVID-19 era, starting Thirty Wolves Designs was challenging. It was difficult to find the right time, right supplies and right designs and to encourage herself to make the first post. Legault emphasizes that new business owners should start small and slowly grow their brand.
Behind the scenes, Legault is excited for more collaboration projects and the launch of the Thirty Wolves Designs website to make her business more accessible to customers. She is also looking forward to discovering more about her Indigenous identity.
“Thirty Wolves Designs means a start to learning about my culture. It’s a beginning, a stepping stone for me to learn more about my family’s history and what it means to be Ojibwe and Métis . . . It’s a fresh start to finding out the part of me that I was never able to explore when I was younger,” said Legault.
Every pair of earrings she creates marks a rekindled connection to the knowledge of the past that was stolen from her.