/Students learn importance of Indigenous beadwork
Students at HHSS learning how to make beaded felt pinsfor Water First Donations for their Indigenous Awareness week. Teaching them is Larry O’Connor. /Submitted.

Students learn importance of Indigenous beadwork

By Grace Oborne

It all started with one little bead for students at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School. Eventually they were making felt pins for Water First donations. 

Earlier this month, Larry O’Connor was asked by teachers to come into their classrooms to teach students about his Indigenous heritage, the culture, and activities such as beading. 

“There are different types of Indigenous beading. The Métis have a style of beading that’s a little different from the Anishinaabe and the Mohawk way of beading. However, to start off, there’s some very simple beading, which is what I showed the kids,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor, whose spirit name is Boodawidoombe, is an Odawa Anishinaabe. He is a part of the Sheshegwaning reserve on Manitoulin Island. 

O’Connor did not live on the reserve. He grew up in Oshawa, and only started exploring his roots about six years ago.

“Both of my parents were Indigenous, but we grew up as non-status people. It wasn’t for a while until my father started exploring his roots,” he said. 

He enjoyed working with and teaching the students at HHSS because they were just as engaged and intrigued to learn.

“It takes a lot of work to bead, and they stuck with it. It’s a little tricky if you’ve never beaded. There are a lot of hours that goes into it, but they were keen. I found the students really want to know about the culture, and I found it remarkable that they want to learn because I want to share.”

Cynthia McAlister, the Indigenous studies teacher at the high school, met O’Connor through a blanket ceremony that the school organized, and learned that he was a resident of Haliburton County.  

“I asked him to come into the class to teach us how to do some beadwork because he does incredible beadwork. I asked him to teach us just a simple flower,” McAlister said. 

With June being National Indigenous history month, HHSS held an Indigenous Awareness week where every day featured different themes with different activities. For instance, on the Wednesday, the theme was “Residential Schools,” and the activity was to wear orange to school. 

HHSS also collected donations for Water First, a non-profit organization that helps First Nations communities to solve local water difficulties through education and training. Each donation was recognized with a hand-beaded pin that O’Connor taught the students to make.

“I wanted to have something that we could offer to give to somebody if they were giving us donations,” McAlister said.

O’Connor played a crucial role for Indigenous awareness week at HHSS, because his lessons taught the students how to create beaded pins. 

“He didn’t actually come in and partake in the week’s activities because it was too hard to co-ordinate, but speaking with him, talking to him, certainly helped kind of guide us into some ideas for the activities, like beading,” explained McAlister.

In the last six years, O’Connor has taken the love he has for his culture to great heights. If you listen to Canoe FM, you might just recognize his name.

“For the last six years, as an Indigenous person, I have hosted a radio program at Canoe FM called Tales from the Big Canoe, and over the course of that six years, I have interviewed dozens and dozens of people, from Indigenous artists to Indigenous politicians,” O’Connor said. 

It’s been a long journey for O’Connor as he has dedicated recent years into learning all about the Indigenous culture, and his family history. It’s only been about a year and a half since he’s accepted his status as First Nation. 

Now, he still dedicates his time to learning, but also to him, it is important that he shares his knowledge as well.

“I want to share as much knowledge that I gained. Knowledge needs to be shared. An example of one thing that I think is important is our beading. Typically, the beads came from shells, so there is that connection to Mother Earth and to water. Those are extremely important to us. I mean, we are born through the water of the women. They are the beings that can give us life. That’s how important they are. That is what I shared with the students.”