Jewelry is a highly important expression of indigenous culture and has been for centuries. Handcrafted by women, their bracelets, necklaces, and more not only signify rank and individuality but also tell stories. Indigenous jewelry in North America continues to be an underappreciated category of jewelry, with some of the most beautiful pieces originating with them.
Jewelry Is Art
For centuries, indigenous women used necklaces, earrings, bracelets, rings, and pins as an expression of art. Unlike many artists, this indigenous jewelry is not made to serve one’s own individual purpose. It is in service of the culture as well.
The methods in which Aboriginal jewelry is made reflects the diversity and history of the maker. Many of the designs and methods have been passed down from mothers to daughters and sometimes transferred between neighboring tribes. Of course, there is space for an indigenous female jewelry maker to input their own personal artistic vision. This is a prominent thread in numerous pieces. At the same time, there is a responsibility to the family and culture to deliver something that is as much about the present as it is the past.
Jewelry As Resistance
The unfortunate story of how Aboriginal people have been treated in Canada is a tale of repeated trauma, disrespect, and hostility. This isn’t a purely Canadian story, either, as tribes everywhere in North America have been paid a similar disrespect. Throughout history, via residential schools and similar initiatives, there have been attempts at erasing Indian language, communication, and culture.
In the face of all this, the women and men who have continued to make indigenous art and jewelry have done so as a way to convey information and tell stories without language. Some scholars have argued jewelry-making to be an expression of resistance to assimilation.
Today’s Indigenous Jewelry Makers
In the past, jewelry was made by women but also men. In certain tribes, it was exclusively men who made certain items. These days, jewelry is more women-friendly in the way pieces are created. Grandmothers, aunts, mothers, daughters, and sisters. These are the jewelry makers of today.
Whether it’s handmade earrings or rings, necklaces, or bracelets, a lot of indigenous jewelry showcased today is often in favor of a cause and will often utilize upcycled materials. It’s a way for families to make money and for indigenous entrepreneurs to build companies. There are a number of indigenous jewelry makers out there, with products sold in major and independent jewelers alike.
There are lots of places to discover indigenous jewelry makers. Etsy may be the most obvious, providing a glimpse into all sorts of handmade gifts. There are also international brands, specializing in indigenous and Aboriginal jewelry from countries as diverse as Australia, Kenya, Mexico, and elsewhere.
An area where indigenous women dominate is with their beadwork. Beading is a pillar in indigenous jewelry. Beads make for some exquisite art and fashion pieces, used in a number of jewelry designs. There are lots of acclaimed indigenous beaders out there, from Molina Jo Parker to Elias Jade Not Afraid, Lenise Omeasoo, Tania Larsson, Hollis Chitto, and others.
So to answer the question of what does indigenous jewelry mean to the women who make them? They can mean everything. Indigenous jewelry is just as much about style and modern trends as they are cultural, familial, and intelligently designed. If you do not already own a piece of indigenous jewelry, it’s well worth looking at the work of the artists mentioned or others and selecting something that resembles you and your personality. Indigenous jewelry stands out amongst the prettiest, best quality jewelry in Canada.
Shop at Corail Blanc and find ethical handmade artisan jewelry, with earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and more at the ready. See the work of skilled jewelry makers from across the country, all handmade and assembled with a keen eye to detail.