Freedom of Expression    



By Maria D.L. Coleman, December 17, 2006



American Indians and Alaska Natives are known for intricate beadwork.  Our population has marketed these crafts for centuries.  The bartering trade system brought foreign products to America and Alaska long before any Russian, European, or other aggressor stepped on our land.  Native products were made from the gifts of nature:  skin, furs, bones, intestines, bladders, birch, spruce, plants, rocks, minerals, shells, fish and mammal oil, and bird parts.  Wearing an adornment of beadwork was a sign of wealth.


Acquiring beads through the trade system required having goods for trade with enough remaining for our own survival.  A household could include many extended family members and guests if a person had plenty, and that allowed more hands to dedicate to decorative tasks.  In turn, traders sought out stylish beadwork along with survival products:  snow shoes, furs, oil, and life secrets.

In Dena’ina (Athabaskan) territory, beadwork was typically a winter focused activity for all genders.  It is cold then and a time for reflection.  Each individual (both male and female) would also prepare their own burial regalia.  Detailed beadwork is a great tool for learning and thought. My beadwork is a periodic effort due to modern home and work duties.

      I made these using traditional designs, which sometimes includes porcupine quills        

Certain areas have particular styles that are known throughout the country.  It is very offensive and disrespectful to classify art and design from one area as the same for all.  Southeast Alaska, Dena’ina, Aleut and the various “Eskimo” nations all have distinct style and symbol differences even though some of our work has common characteristics (everyone borrows good ideas).


Not all beadwork is area specific.  Artists throughout the world strive to accomplish unique designs.  All kinds of people pick up on the good ones.

      I made these as creative experiments and learned from the process        

My name is Maria Coleman.  I was born Deborah Ezi.  My grandfathers were “chiefs.”  (Dena’ina had different words for the leaders.)  My mother experienced the transition to structured school beginning 2nd grade at the age of 14.  Like others, our elders were abused for practicing their culture or speaking their language.  Today, we honor our culture by reviving it.  Chin’an! (Thank You)


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