Beading has become an important thread for Thunder Bay’s Annette Klement in efforts to rediscover her Ojibway crafting skills

Annette Klement Beads to Connect With Her Culture, Reclaim Her Ojibway Identity 

By Roxann Shapwaykeesic

Beading is the last thing Annette Klement of Thunder Bay thinks of before she falls asleep and it is the first thing she considers in the morning. The 39-year-old wife and mother of two started learning the craft just last February, and now spends most of her free time honing her skills and says she immediately felt it connected her with her Ojibway culture. 

“For me, my beading is definitely a cultural thing. It keeps me connected to my ancestors. To me, it’s just part of who I am now,” says Klement, whose family is originally from Pays Plat First Nation, about 180 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay. Growing up, Klement always identified as an Indigenous person. She attended powwows and understood the meaning of smudging, but not much else in regards to traditional knowledge and teachings. She says her grandmother had fears identifying as an Indigenous person when she first moved to Thunder Bay in the 1960s. “When my grandmother came here to the city, she thought she was doing her children a favour by not teaching them the traditional ways and the culture and stopped speaking Ojibway,” says Klement. 

Every evening after supper, Klement clears the table and starts working on her beading

Like many other Indigenous families over that same period, Klement’s grandmother decided not to teach the language for fear of backlash. For fear of racism. “It was better not to, or so they thought at that time,” says Klement, adding she ended up with only tidbits of information about some of her Indigenous heritage. “We were definitely not a traditional cultural family,” she adds. Since the 1980s, Klement’s family on her mother’s side has managed to piece together more of their Indigenous family history, as they worked to reclaim their Indian Status made possible by a series of the changes to the Indian Act. In 2019, they also researched family members through baptism, marriage, and death certificates through the Catholic Diocese in Thunder Bay; Klement then learned her great-great grandmother’s name was Ginogamikwe, which means “fisher woman” in Ojibway. 

“I felt an instant connection. That’s what my great-great grandmother did; they were fishermen. I have always loved being in the boat and being out fishing with my parents,” says Klement, who still loves to fish with her husband and children. For Klement, beading was another way to connect back to the family’s Indigenous roots. “I wanted to find a way to become more connected to our culture. […] I thought that beading for myself could be the way I connect,” she says. Inspired by the beautiful beading she’d seen on display at powwows, Klement found someone willing to teach her to bead. “Her teaching was that when you bead you should be in a good place […] because what you’re feeling will go into what you’re making,” says Klement.

Klement incorporates traditional imagery and colours into her beadwork, but also enjoys trying more contemporary designs

Soon after the COVID-19 lockdowns came into effect, Klement was able to really focus on her new passion. She was also able to connect with a vibrant beading community on Instagram and Pinterest who shared different backgrounds and stories. “Another woman here in town was telling me about her teachings and how a lot of people, especially women, will use beading as a way to heal from trauma,” said Klement, adding she very much believes that “beading is medicine.” Klement now shares her work on social media under the name Ginogamikwe Beads, in honour of her great-great grandmother and ancestors. She now feels like a true beader, and hopes one day to expand her techniques and learn how to work in different mediums. 

She would also love to make her own moccasins and remembers her granny, her mother, and herself always having a pair in the house and considers them another connection to her culture. 

And if her daughters decide they want to continue these new-found traditions, Klement is ready and more than happy to teach them. “Make sure you get good quality stuff like needles, thread, beads; all that makes a difference when you’re trying to put something together,” Klement advises new beaders.

And, of course, to just keep practicing. Klement still has her first pair of earrings, and says they’re pretty hilarious to look at.

Klement’s creations can be viewed on Instagram @ginogamikwe.beads.