Beading Circles provide community engagement with Native American culture
Every week, the Native American Academic Student Success Center hosts Beading Circles where students can learn about Native American culture by doing beadwork. The events take place in the University House, and anyone is welcome to participate.
“A beading circle is where students come and they just bead,” said Deserea Langley, a Ph.D. candidate in the Native American Studies department and leader of Beading Circles. “We have made earrings, we’ll make necklaces but it just provides a space where students can come together outside of academia and just talk, promote their culture and share.”
No beading experience is necessary to participate.
“[Students] will learn how to bead and make a couple things that they can take home to their families or they can keep for themselves,” Langley said. “It’s a way to get out of the academic side of things and just have an event that is dedicated to taking the stress out of their academic life.”
NAASSC seeks to create a sense of belonging for Native American students. The center provides students with a space to study, access to counseling services and advising, exposure to networking opportunities and other helpful resources.
“It’s really a center that helps Native students succeed in higher education at UC Davis, providing a space for them to be comfortable in being a Native student,” Langley said. “Because I think sometimes it’s difficult to adjust from coming from a Native community, or maybe you don’t know a lot about your Native American community.”
The Beading Circles offer a space for students to celebrate their culture while promoting a sense of community.
“It’s just about sharing your culture, so in the sharing of culture, it helps [students] feel that their Native American identity is growing and is strengthened by participating in the Beading Circles,” Langley said.
Langley comes from a Native American community.
“I was really interested in working at the center helping Native students because that is a passion of mine because I, myself, am a Native graduate student,” Langley said. “So I like to help Native students feel comfortable in higher education and kind of help them learn how to navigate the higher education institution.”
At the most recent general Beading Circle held on Feb. 13, students participated by preparing pine nuts to be used as beads for necklaces, bracelets, earrings and other forms of jewelry. The pine nuts, once collected, are sandpapered on either end to reveal the inner meat of the nut, which is then cleaned out.
“Part of this process is that you have to collect them […] or [attend] different events and buy them, which is the easier way,” said Michelle Villegas-Frazier, director of the Strategic Native American Retention Initiatives. “Otherwise, you would have to go out and collect the pinecone, and then they fall out. So it is a process, you collect them, you clean them and then you use them.”
Each pine nut takes about 20 minutes to clean. Some necklaces, composed of several strands of pine nuts and other materials, can run around $400 to $600 due to the hours of labor that go into producing them and the material costs. Other materials used in beading include abalone, dentalium and porcupine quills.
There are other beading opportunities at the NAASSC. Michaela Castillo, a fourth-year Native American Studies major, has been involved in Beading Circles since the NAASSC’s opening in 2017. She participates in a separate Beading Circle for graduating seniors to decorate grad caps.
“It’s been pretty successful. We get around ten people every Sunday who come and bead grad caps or gather the supplies for their caps,” Castillo said. “Mine is in the process of getting finished. [I] teach how to start the cap, the process of it and we’re kind of there on hand if people need help.”
Castillo helped start the grad cap Beading Circles as a way to share culture and connect her community.
“There’re a lot of people who either don’t have the resources or don’t have the finances or don’t know anybody to hire someone to bead their own grad cap,” Castillo said. “[We thought,] why don’t we do a workshop where they can learn how to bead their own grad cap, make their own design and do it themselves. All the beads would be paid for, the grad caps would be paid for, it would all be free. They would just have to do the labor themselves.”
All beading circles are free for attendees.
Castillo hopes the grad cap Beading Circles continue after she and other student organizers graduate this year.
“Being here and having the community and having the resources, and somebody willing to teach, a lot more students have learned how to bead and that’s something that’s really cool,” Castillo said.
The purpose of Beading Circles, however, goes beyond producing jewelry and other items.
“Generally, it’s not the beading that’s important, it’s us getting together and talking and connecting, and having these very fluid, general conversations [is] helpful for the students,” Villegas-Frazier said. “So we’re not trying to produce stuff, it’s just a reason to get together.”
The Beading Circle is held every week for one hour. The NAASSC also hosts movie nights, Waffle Wednesday and other events. More information can be found on their website.
Written By: Cheyenne Wiseman — firstname.lastname@example.org