In episode 7 of the Salvationist Podcast, host Brandon Laird speaks with Captain Crystal Porter, assistant territorial Indigenous ministries consultant and divisional youth secretary, Prairie Division, about her journey to reclaim her Indigenous identity, and how the craft of beading has connected her to the land and to her Indigenous community.
Brandon Laird 0:00
Hi, my name is Brandon Laird, and you're listening to the Salvationist podcast. Today, we're going to talk with Captain Crystal Porter, who, starting July 2, will be the associate territorial Indigenous ministries consultant, and Prairie Division children and youth secretary. Welcome today, Crystal.
Crystal Porter 0:22
Thanks. It's great to be here with you guys.
Brandon Laird 0:25
Crystal, I understand that you've been on a journey to reclaim your Indigenous heritage. Can you share with our listeners how that has gone?
Crystal Porter 0:33
You know, that's been a really long journey for me. When I was a child, I remember it just briefly coming up in conversation, but it wasn't something that our family really focused on. It was kind of something that we knew, but it just wasn't a conversation piece for us. And so I remember moving from my home in Green's Harbour, Newfoundland, which is this little, tiny, small, fishing village, and moving to Winnipeg, and going to Booth College, and I started to attend Weetamah. And I just was a part of the congregation and community there, and started seeing people that looked like my grandmother--there were people sitting in the congregation, Indigenous people sitting in the congregation. And I was thinking to myself, these people look like my grandma, why do these people look like my grandma? And I was, at the time, Major Shari and Robert Russell were the officers there. And it really started my relationship to reclaim that part of who I was that just wasn't really talked about in my home. And it was a lot of, I kind of think about it, like, you know, Shrek uses that idea of an onion and peeling back the layers. And that's kind of what my reconciliation journey with myself has been a lot like, because there was a lot of deep shame in our family about being Indigenous. And what did that mean for me? And so it's been a lot of self-awareness. It's been a lot of connecting with the community and journeying with even my own family in what does it mean for us to be Indigenous.
Brandon Laird 2:10
Thanks for sharing that. I became introduced to you and sort of your connection to your Indigenous culture working on a project for THQ around Orange Shirt Day that's going to be happening, I believe, this year in September. And talking with you on that project, I got to learn a little bit more about you and your background. And we had a really interesting connection because we were creating artwork for the shirt. It was really interesting for me because I was sort of talking about how, I'm a designer, and I have experience in teaching art. And I've worked with lots of different students who come from different Indigenous communities. And I would see that reflected in their art. Actually, one of my really good friends is a Mohawk here in the area that I live in and he is an artist. We started talking about art, and then you start explaining that you've got into some art, craft and artwork from your background. Can you explain the craft of beading? And how that's been a part of reclaiming your Indigenous heritage?
Crystal Porter 3:09
Yeah, definitely. Beading has become a central part of who I am as an Indigenous person. When I first learned to bead, it was all about reconnecting to parts of us in our journey that was lost. And so for a long time, struggling through my Indigenous identity, there wasn't really this connection point for me, I wasn't a part of a community. And so beading really became this community for me. And learning the process of beading and just that connection piece of being able to do things that our ancestors couldn't do was huge for me. Learning the patterns and designs that are in beadwork just opened up this whole idea of connecting with ancestors who have gone before us and realizing that there is this greater community, even beyond what we see, that is supporting and uplifting us. In Scripture, we talk about the clouds of witnesses, and how they continue to help us on our journey. And beadwork has been a huge part of that for me because it really does connect me with the ones who have gone before us and have journeyed with us through this point in our lives. And so, for me, reclaiming my Indigenous heritage through beadwork just reminds me of just that community beyond what we see in the here and now.
Brandon Laird 4:43
I like that Scripture verse that you brought in there. In learning your beadwork and your craftwork, how did you learn this? And how has this connected you to that community?
Crystal Porter 4:57
So I remember the first NAIITS that I was ever at, it was in Chicago and I was invited to come along. And this was really early in my journey to reclaim my culture. And I walked in and I was so nervous. And I didn't really know anybody. It was like one person I knew there. And there was this lady in the back beading. And so I'm sitting there and NAIITS is this academic Indigenous community with all these brilliant Indigenous theologians, and I'm sitting there thinking, How tening and beading in the back? The whole weekend, I was just mesmerized by the work that she was doing. And she was working on a pair of slippers. And I would gravitate to that table. And she would be everywhere. If there were things happening in the main hall, she was in the back beading in the main hall. There are things happening off in another room, she was there beading. And eventually, I got the courage to just go up to her and just like stare at her work. And she was like, do you want to try this? Like, I've seen you looking--do you want to try? And I was like, yeah, but I've never beaded before. And she's like, oh, no, come here. And she pulled up a chair. And I sat next to her. And she showed me a few of the stitches. And then she passed it over. And she was like, here, you try this beadwork. And I was like, OK, and I was like, so afraid that I was gonna mess it all up. And she's like, no, you won't mess it up, you're gonna do fine. And so I beaded a little. And she's like, oh yeah, that's great. And then she looked at me, she's like, I gotta go do something else keep beading. And I was like, ah! I've literally only been doing this for an hour. And she's like, keep going. And I remember, I was so slow. And it was like, it felt like forever, and I was terrified. But then at the end of the weekend, she brought me back to her room. And she had all these beads and all these materials. And she was like, you know what, Crystal, come in and choose a little bead kit for yourself. Take some beads, take some materials that you need to make a medallion. And if you have any questions, reach out to me, and I'll be more than willing to answer them. And that kind of really set me off in the beginning of my journey. And because she was just, she didn't know me before this weekend. But she was so giving and so gracious with her teachings. And you know, that's really been a connection point for me. There's this really cool network of beadwork artists on Instagram. We all follow each other. And as we're trying out new materials or looking to create different projects, people have just been so willing and open to answering questions. Right now, I'm working on a collar for my graduation. And I've been focusing on Miꞌkmaq artwork. And so for different nations of Indigenous people, the artwork looks different, right? So if you're a Métis beadwork artist, the flowers, and that's going to be completely different than if you're Miꞌkmaq or all the different nations. And so for me, I'm working on these double curves. And it's really cool to be able to connect with other Miꞌkmaq beadwork artists, and say, you know, is this the right way to do this? Is this the right stitch to use when you're working on moosehide? Or Melton felt, is there a different stabilizer that you need to use? So there's all these like little tiny questions that don't seem like a big deal. But just kind of make the art a little bit more neater and easier to work with. And people are just so willing to answer questions. And I think it's a huge aspect of community because for so long beadwork, and Indigenous ways of knowing and doing just wasn't appreciated and wasn't a part of, was taken away from us in a way. And so to be able to help and support each other just opens up this beautiful community of people wanting to learn about their culture, reclaim their culture and keep the beadwork alive for the generations to come. I think it's so cool. Like right now I look at museum pieces and draw inspiration from museum pieces. And I think 100 years down the road, if my beadwork is still around and people are looking at it, what kind of inspiration will people in generations, in the years to come kind of look at? Yeah, and it's an amazing thought to think about sometimes.
Brandon Laird 9:21
I remember a conversation before when we first connected around this, you were talking about how the use of the material in the artwork and the crafting that you do is connected to creation care. And for me, I was like, oh yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Can you share with our listeners about that?
Crystal Porter 9:42
I always draw inspiration from creation. So that's like one of the basic things that I do. When I'm walking in creation, I look at the flowers, I look at, even the colours of the sky can bring inspiration, right? So that's like a huge thing. But it always keeps you mindful to care for creation, and the materials that you use in beadwork. So recently, I started to use even more traditional materials. So traditionally, smoked moose hides, and supporting our Indigenous communities by buying materials, specifically from Indigenous artists as well. Last summer, I had the most awesome experience. Everybody thinks it's so weird. But I actually had the opportunity to get a porcupine that was roadkill on my way to camp and use the quills from the porcupine to start doing and incorporating that into my beadwork. And a really cool teaching that I learned when I started this process was just giving thanks for the things that you have. And sharing and gifting the things that you have. So when I was gifted this porcupine, I gave thanks for the porcupine. I only took what I needed and then I gave it back to creation. And so it makes you very conscious of the materials that you're using, but also how you live among creation. When I draw inspiration from the flowers, I want to ensure that in years to come, after I'm long gone from this earth, that people will also be able to draw inspiration from the flowers, those same flowers, or the same colours that are in the sky. So it's all about taking care of creation right now, so that in the future, there will still be a place to be, there'll still be a place to draw inspiration from.
Brandon Laird 11:39
That's great, and I find that really interesting. For a person who's like sort of looking from the outside in on what you're doing and trying to understand, hearing what you're talking about, I have a lot of appreciation of what you're doing, and how you're utilizing your experiences within creation as well as, as using parts of the porcupine, sort of speaking, in your art. Talking about your art, are you creating pieces that, you know, you might wear as a ceremonial item? Or are you talking about creating art for art's sake? What are you trying to do when you're creating this work?
Crystal Porter 12:16
So I've done a few different projects. I love creating jewelry and medallions and earrings. It's just really cool to be able to go out anywhere, just if you're walking and you've gifted a pair of earrings and knowing that somebody else is walking around with your art, that's amazing to think about. But I've also done some bigger projects. For one of my final courses, I beaded a Miꞌkmaq creation story, which was a really cool, it was the biggest, at that point, it was the biggest project that I had done. That was probably like the size of an extra-large dinner plate. So that was really complex trying to learn the process of beading a project that big. And there's little lessons that you take up and you learn as you're beading. One of the coolest lessons is that you can't bead when you're frustrated or angry because it tightens the strings of your beadwork. And so it doesn't lay flat properly and it doesn't look really great. And so you're always supposed to bead with a good heart and a kind heart because you're beading for somebody else and they're wearing your work. And so as I'm doing this big project and you know you're dealing with all these emotions and you live life, right, and so it was like this conscious thing where I'm like, you know what, I am getting frustrated over this project or this that's happening right now in my life, and I need to put this down and kind of connect with the Creator over my emotions and kind of sort through what was going on in my life. And then I was able to pick up my beadwork again and kind of keep going. Yeah, so I kind of like doing all kinds of things, all kinds of new projects. And lately, I started doing, with some of the leftover quills, starting to do some birch bark, quill work. And some of those have been, just like for art's sake, and gifts, and for people, but yeah, I kind of have my hand in all kinds of things.
Brandon Laird 14:18
When I'm working with students at the art and design school, I talk about being created co-creators, and I can sort of use that language because it's very open and people can interpret. But what you just described for me, as you know, being a co-creator, and in bringing that process, it sounds very meditative to me, very contemplative, let's use the word contemplative. Because you know, you can't do something in the right way without the right spirit, or the right heart that we would say, as a faith person. So that's a really interesting experience that you have when you're doing your work. Because you can tell based on the work, you know, how you're feeling. Or what's going on inside, it's an expression, visual expression of what's going on the inside. So that's very interesting. You've talked a little bit about this already. But I'm curious, what inspires your work? Are there colours, elements, themes that you return to?
Crystal Porter 15:09
It's that whole mindful piece again. That's what I always come back to is that when I'm out for a walk, I'm looking at flowers, or looking at colours that I wouldn't necessarily put together in my mind. And all of a sudden, I'm looking and I'm like, oh, wow, this was created with what I would have seen as two clashing colours. And so then I'm able to experiment a little bit more with even my colour selections, and kind of the things that I choose. When I'm doing bead work for other people, or somebody's asked me to do like earrings, or those kinds of things, I usually ask what their favorite colour is, to kind of get an idea. But most times, and I love when people do this, they'll kind of give me an idea of what they like, but then they're like, but kind of experiment, do what you want. And that kind of gives me freedom to think about who the person is, and allow my mind to, just, as I'm thinking about them, what do I identify with them and get to know the person more. So when I bead for somebody, it isn't just kind of a material that I'm processing and just sending to them. It's really something that I've taken time to really concentrate on and I learned more about them. I pray for them as I'm beading. And that's something else that an elder taught me was that when you're beading, you're beading for, you're beading for someone, so you're praying for them. You're praying for circumstances that's happening in their life now, but things that might happen later in their life. So when they wear your beadwork, they're wearing good thoughts and prayers that have been prayed for them. So sometimes, colours come through the inspiration of creation. Sometimes colours just come through prayers that I have for the people and good thoughts that I want them to have. Yeah.
Brandon Laird 17:02
Thank you for sharing that. My final question for you today is there like a message that you're trying to convey with the work? Does your work tell a story?
Crystal Porter 17:09
I think for me—I bought this T-shirt one time that said beading is medicine. And for me beading has really been this good medicine. It's been this healing for me. When I think about me as a child trying to find a place to belong, there was always this part of me that was missing, this part that I just couldn't connect with anywhere. And when I started to bead I was just welcomed and embraced into this community of Indigenous beadwork artists, where if you have a question you can just ask and people are so willing to help. And I think every time I bead I consciously realize the gift that the Creator has given me through my bead work, that I've just been able to reclaim and find a place to belong, when I've always been searching for this place. Yeah, so I think ultimately, that's kind of for me what I want. When somebody sees my beadwork or somebody wears my beadwork, I just want them to realize, yeah, realize the journey that I was on to reclaim who I was.
Brandon Laird 18:22
That's dope. Thank you for sharing your story today, and taking the time to talk about your journey to reclaim your culture.
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