Reclaiming culture, one bead at a time

Sarah Lopes Sadafi
November 5, 2021
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

C/O Paige Porter

Local business owner Paige Porter is rediscovering her Indigenous heritage through her beadwork

Beading has a historical and cultural significance among Canada’s Indigenous communities as an art form passed down through generations. For Paige Porter, the Hamilton-based Indigenous beadwork artist behind House of Beads, it is a means of reconnecting with her heritage and carving out a cultural identity of her own.

Porter’s small business specializes in Indigenous beaded jewellery, accessories and custom commissions. Though beading is traditionally passed from parent to child within Indigenous communities, Porter’s journey to beading arose out of a self-driven search to learn more about her heritage. She is Haudenosaunee and Onyota'a:ka from Six Nations of the Grand River. As an intergenerational survivor of the residential schools system, Porter described feelings of disconnection from her culture within her family in her formative years. 

“Growing up, I didn’t know that much about my culture. Down the line, my family was afraid to acknowledge and speak the language. Over the years it died off, which is sad to say, but because of residential schools I know some older Indigenous people went through especially traumatic experiences and were ashamed of being Native. That’s how they were brainwashed. Being Indigenous, I grew up and had to learn about my culture myself,” explained Porter.

In her efforts to reconnect with her heritage, Porter became involved with the Hamilton Regional Indian Center, where she gained more exposure to resources and other Indigenous community members. She began beading in November 2019 to rekindle the traditional art form within her family, entirely through self-teaching and her own devices. 

“Beading is usually a tradition passed down generations and generations, but in my case, my family was never taught beading. I wanted to become the first-generation leader in my family . . . It’s not only for myself, but also so I can pass it down to my family and my grandkids — I can be that grandma that teaches them how to do it,”

Paige Porter

Porter began learning to bead through online resources and imitating designs, before beginning to create original designs of her own. The learning process has provided her with a sense of resilience and pride in her heritage.

Initially, Porter never saw herself as a business owner. Along her self-teaching journey, she began posting her work on Instagram. She started to amass a following and it was her mother who first had the idea to sell the art Porter had created. Her mother’s encouragement incited the transformation of her passion into a business, now with over 1,500 followers on her combined social media platforms.

Porter fondly recalled memories from the Together in Dance Festival at Mohawk College, which she attended as a vendor in February 2020. The celebration of diversity and multiculturalism was one of Porter’s first times presenting her work to the public. After the festival, Porter went on to collaborate with Sweet Peas Baby Company, a seasonal subscription box for parents of young children, where her bead art was featured.

“My products are handmade and take time. You're getting something that is authentic and handmade by an actual Indigenous person rather than Indigenous-inspired and when you support an Indigenous business, then you're also supporting the Indigenous community. When you go and shop in Canada, those proceeds go into Canada,” said Porter.

Beyond her bead art, Porter stressed the importance of bringing awareness to injustices committed against Indigenous peoples in Canada. She called students to action to educate themselves on Orange Shirt Day, Truth and Reconciliation Day and the missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two spirit.

Porter’s small business has helped her to build a bridge back to the Indigenous culture that was stolen from her and her family and her art is a reminder of the importance of Indigenous culture and legacies. 

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