Worn Within


Dakota & Ojibwe Beadwork

Minnesota is home to two major tribal nations - the Dakota and the Ojibwe. And their beadwork art are quite different. Susan speaks with two different beadwork artists and one museum curator to find out just how different in this episode of Worn Within.

AIRED: April 12, 2021 | 0:07:22

- Ask any Dakota or Ojibwe person

and they'll tell you that these beadwork patterns

that you see here are very different.

These beadwork designs belong

to the Ojibwe and Dakota nations,

the two major tribal nations residing here,

in the borders of Minnesota.

But which is which and can you spot the difference

between each beadwork pattern?

Stick with me till the end of the video

and you'll be able to tell.

(mellow music continues)

(mellow music fades)

(tribal drums)

The beating of the drums,

(tribal singing)

the synchronized singing,

and the jingle of the regalia dresses,

these are the sounds that could be heard

throughout a powwow celebration.

- [Announcer] The beautiful colors...

- [Susan] Powwows are a native tradition

where indigenous people gather

to honor their native heritage,

which is why I'm here today to look at...

(vinyl record scratching) Just kidding.

Because of the pandemic,

many powwow celebrations were canceled.

(tranquil music) But I did happen to visit

a powwow ground this year

and as you can see, it's totally empty.

(mellow music) So why am I here?

I'm here to meet Cole Redhorse Jacobson, a beadwork artisan.

He is from the Prairie Island Indian community

which is part of the larger Dakota nation.

- This is what has come to be synonymous with Dakota

beadwork and moccasins is the fully beaded,

geometric, Plain-style of moccasin.

And you can see the hard sole.

It's a little bit more practical for powwows.

- [Susan] Native people have been adorning

their clothing and jewelry, as well

as different household items, for centuries.

- The predecessor to beadwork is quillwork,

which is using dyed porcupine quills,

that's a pre-colonial artwork, which exists today as well.

But beadwork, it's just always been something

that we have adapted into our traditional art.

- [Susan] In the 1500s, European settlers

began trading glass beads to the native people,

and the natives quickly took to them

and began assimilating them into their material culture.

(music continues)

- When I was younger, my mom showed me

a piece of beadwork that my

great-great-grandmother had did.

It didn't look like anything I had seen

other Dakota people have.

And it opened up this door to me doing research

of traditional Dakota beadwork that is from this area.

(music continues)

So this is the style of moccasin that Dakota people

used to wear in Minnesota a long time ago.

It's the pucker toe style and you can see

the puckers right here, and then also that

floral, bilateral floral beadwork design.

This style really does really does denote that

our people are Woodland people.

(gentle music)

- The designs of, like specifically, Dakota people

are their certain distinctions that you can see or tell?

- The algorithm of the Dakota beadwork is that

it gets very complicated. I do see a specific style

in Dakota floral beadwork. depending on whatever phase it

has kind of come out of is it's very bilateral.

With Dakota floral, I notice that it's always more so

shapes that are coming out of like a stem

sprouting up, from down and up.

- After learning about the different

Dakota beadwork designs, I met with Jessica Gokey,

an Ojibwe beadwork artisan

from the Lac Courte Oreilles community.

Jessica started her career by beading for regalia outfits

but has since shifted to beading wall art.

Though a different medium, her main emphasis is still

on traditional Ojibwe beadwork art,

and in particular, incorporating their floral designs.

- The Ojibwe florals is what my people are known for,

so that's why I incorporate the florals into my beadwork

is to try to tie the past into the present

and keep those traditions alive.

So you'll have my cloth, my final cloth,

and it's actually mounted on a frame.

And I actually bead, physically, on it.

Our people have always been inspired by nature.

If you look back, you can see it in the birchbark biting,

you could see it in quillwork and also

in moose hair embroidery.

We've always incorporated some sort of nature

into our art form.

In contrast from Dakota nations, Ojibwe tribes

all around this area have a similar form of beadwork.

Our florals are more circular and flowing.

(music continues)

- [Susan] After spending time with Jessica,

I headed over to the Minnesota Historical Society.

I want us to see more clothing and accessories

that have been adorned with the Ojibwe style of beading.

- And then I guarantee if you show a closeup of my hand

and I'm not wearing gloves, somebody, somebody will comment.

- [Susan] There, I meet Ben Gessner,

the curator for the museum's Native American collection.

- There's really this division here,

kind of Mississippi River.

You have the influence from the west

and you have influence from the east,

and you share some similarities

between the other Great Lake cultures.

And it's just really this place where there is

a lot going on, artistically.

When you're really talking about the distinctions,

kind of historically between Dakota and Ojibwe,

Ojibwe, you can really recognize the floral.

It's often done on a black background.

You can sort of follow these

really flowing vines throughout it.

The designs are perfectly balanced,

but they're not mirror image, which is a lot more common

with the Dakota floral work.

And you draw a line right down the middle.

You see that it's the same kind of on both sides there.

And so these are Dakota floral and Ojibwe floral.

- [Susan] Seeing both traditional beadwork patterns

in one place, I could definitely spot

the difference between each.

But like Ben mentions, I can also spot

the similarities too, like having puckers,

a design style found in all Ojibwe moccasins.

And that's okay.

I believe that's the beauty that comes

with blending different cultures.

From the adaption of the glass beads

to the evolution of the different Dakota beading styles,

and even to Jessica's transition

from adorning regalia outfits to frame canvases,

native beadwork, like all fashion, changes over time.

But for now, we'll be able to determine

whether a beadwork design came from the Ojibwe

or the Dakota nations.

(music continues)

- There's also one other thing I wanted to ask you,

if you have ever spotted a bead that looks like,

out of place, a different color bead on any of these?

- [Susan] Give me a hint. (chuckling)

- All right, it's--

- In this area?

- Area, yep.

- Oh yeah, this blue thing right here

and that thing, right there.

- People refer to that, before, as a spirit bead.

That's a bead that is a purposeful mistake.

And the idea behind that is that the creator is

the only being that can make something perfect.

And so artists would include these in their beadwork.

(music fades)