When Shantel Nawash was asked to design a logo for Petro-Canada, she knew that she wanted it to be functional. Not something that was simply hung in the lobby, but could be worn to events and seen by people. So she chose a medallion. “Beadwork is so intricate, so time-consuming. There is authenticity in something that is made from your own two hands. It’s a very sacred thing. It’s a piece of me.”
Shantel has been beading for just over six years, first taking up the craft in an effort to “be more traditional.” Her blood family is Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) and her traditional family is Blackfoot, from the Siksika Nation; she was recently given her Blackfoot name – Siimohakii, or Peacekeeping Woman.
Shantel learned to bead from some close personal friends and some contacts she had met through the Indigenous Student Program at Suncor as well as watching YouTube videos. Her beading designs are often combinations of the things she loves, combined in interesting ways. When deciding what item or design to create for someone, the idea often comes to her when she first gets to know them or the intended purpose of the piece.
Shantel stresses that being in the right mindset is essential for her beading. “Beading is a very sacred thing. My energy is going into the work I create. I want to have a really clear mind when I start a project. I won’t even pick up the beads if I’m not in the right state of mind.” To help clear her mind and focus her energy, Shantel smudges at the beginning of a project and while she is working on it.
When she isn’t beading, Shantel has been a full-time employee at Suncor for 11 years, currently an SCM Administrator/Analyst. She is also the Cultural Awareness Circle Lead on Journeys, Suncor’s employee action group for Indigenous employees. The Cultural Awareness Circle is focused on storytelling, something that resonates with Shantel. “Beadwork is a storytelling form. Beads were originally created from stone and bone. It is one of the earliest traditions in native culture, often used for trading or as a currency.”
When Shantel first got involved with Suncor and its support of Indigenous culture, it was surprising to her that more people didn’t know about Indigenous culture – from something as simple as bannock to more complex issues like the history of Residential schools in Canada. “It’s not that people don’t care. It’s that they don’t know. And how can you care about something that you don’t know? That’s why visibility is really important. All during (National Indigenous History) month I’ll be wearing my ribbon skirt and my kokum scarf. The more visibility, the better!”
A by-product of visibility is understanding. “Native people aren’t looking for a guilt trip. They just want people to understand. There are so many people who are directly affected by the past. My grandmother is MMEIP; my father was caught in the Sixties Scoop. People are affected by this generational trauma – it really wasn’t that long ago… and these events need to be talked about. Yes, they’re dark and they’re raw, but it helps to talk about it. It creates understanding when we talk about it. Even in the corporate world.”