Metis beadwork

Beautiful Metis beadwork and its origins

Metis mocassins

Vintage Metis beaded moccasins

Happy Sunday everyone!

I am not sure where everyone of you reading this are but it is a gorgeous warm and sunny day on the West Coast of Canada πŸ™‚ So I thought I would share some beautiful bead work with you! Today, I want to focus on the Metis bead work. I have discussed the Metis Nation as well as their sash in a different post. In a nutshell, what you need to know is that Metis people are of mixed ancestry, typically European and Indigenous (often Cree and Ojibwe). However, being of mixed ancestry does not make one Metis. The Metis culture is a unique culture, born out of a mix of ancestries. Therefore, it is a culture in itself. To be Metis, one has to have an heritage that includes this particular culture.

Metis people and their bead work

Metis beaded pouch

Metis beaded tobacco pouch- Beadwork by Lawrence Barkwell

Metis art is greatly influenced by both European and Native cultures. However, the Metis people have often influenced Native art, so much so that oftentimes, their art would be mistaken for Native art. It is thought that the Metis people actually introduced bead work to some Native nations such as Cree and Ojibwe, who took a liking to it and included it in their designs.. Nonetheless, sometimes credit for their work was given to Natives. Also, as European were more inclined to and demanding to buy “real Native art”, Metis people would sell their art to Native people who would resell it to the Europeans. Sad in a way that their culture was not recognized. And it also caused confusion as to the origins of bead work.

Nonetheless, Metis people were known as the “Flower Beadwork people” They would often do symmetrical floral patterns on a dark background (dark blue and black being the most common) using glass seed beads. They would even decorate their horse and saddle. Their work was traded all over North America and Europe. The floral bead work was used on anything they would wear like jackets, boots, moccasins, gloves, pants and vests. The floral bead work became synonym to the Metis people and a source of pride. They would also do floral silk embroidery, which they were introduced to by the Ursuline nuns (from Europe).

Meaning and themes in the Metis bead work

Beadwork on moosehide

Beadwork on Moose Hide, Alaska, Nov 2014

Some might wonder what the meaning of the bead work is. Well the floral designs are usually connected with stems as on the picture on the right. It is also at times influenced by the Ojibway principle of always representing four different parts of the plant, or four stages of vegetation. For example, the bead work will often include seed, leaves, buds and fruits or flowers. Or stems, leaves, buds and flowers.

If you think about it for a second it makes sense. Indeed, a lot of principles within the Native culture come in 4. Think of the four quadrants of the medicine wheel, representing our four sides, the four stages of life, the four directions. This would be the Metis equivalent if you will. Metis people are also taught to bead a mistake in their work to protect them from vanity. As only the Creator can make something perfect.

Alternatively, you will also sometimes see an X design in the pattern, again representing something similar to the concept of the four cardinal points, the four directions. However, not all designs are symmetrical. As long as they are balanced, just like the female and male energies balance each other. Reconciling opposites to find harmony.

If you take a look at the tobacco bag above, you will be able to see that it contains four quadrants, all connected by the stem. You will also see the out of place orange bead on the top left flower, the “mistake”.

The Metis Octopus bag

Octopus bag

Octopus bag

Yes that is a weird name. But if you look at the one on the right, I think the name will make sense to you. Octopus bags were originally known as “fire bags” as Metis people would use them to carry flint and steel to start fires. They also carried ammunition, tobacco and pipes. They are based on the animal skin bags originally made by the Algonquins (I won’t post a picture here….You can pretty much imagine an animal as a bag and that would be it). The fire bags are thought to originate from the Lake Winnipeg area and migrated as far as to the Tlingit people of the Northwest coast. And well the bag had 8 legs or pendants or 4 double pendants and became known as the octopus bag. With time, the octopus bag migrated to the Red River Settlement and then the Northern Cree. Before long, it was a hit!

I think it certainly looks cool and I could see myself having one. I tried hard to find where can one buy Metis beaded bags. However, they are not easy to find, especially, as I mentioned above, the origins of the bags are not always clear. You can check out this Etsy page for beaded bags, including medicine bags that I personally have (this one for example). Or try a local Metis artist. I am lucky to have one near where I live. I have mentioned him before (go in my Resources section), you can check him out here. I leave you with those 2 wonderful octopus bags πŸ™‚

All my Relations


Metis octopus bag

Octopus bag

Beadwork by Lawrence Barkwell

For more info on the Metis People, their work and history, see this Amazon link.

40 thoughts on “Metis beadwork

  1. Hassan

    Hi Emily, I love how clear and detailed this article is. As a scientist, I have always taken other forms of alternative therapy (am I right in assuming this Metis is a form of alternative therapy?) with a pinch of salt, and you have at least opened my mind to the possibility that there is something else out there (as I will be the first to admit that science cannot explain everything), so thank you for that.

    On a superficial level, the artwork on these bags are incredible, and I’m sure my other half would be delighted if I was to give it to her as a present (or I’d be gutted if she was not), so thank you for taking the time to put this together

    1. Emily Post author

      Thank you Hassan! Those bags are absolutely gorgeous indeed. Metis refers to a nation or a culture. It also comes with a way of life and traditions.

  2. tinnakon

    Nice handicraft of seemingly a tribal people with unique design. The Metis Octpus bag is rich in nature blended art and I would doubt that they could make the same on their apparel or bracelet. Love to see you add in more picture and story in the future. One note here for you is I need to search for the image of Algonquins – it still keeps me skeptic after finishing your story.

  3. lisa

    This a good website,my mother want to look for her ancestors since who know my great-great grand mother was Indian.It’s had to get all the information we need.I love the jewelry and the recipes ,will check on you again.Be blessed

  4. Anthony

    Hello There,
    I really like the site you have created.These are very beautiful and earthy I really like them. My girlfriend loves this kind of things, she wears stuff like this. but also this theme and style of your site is cool! I recently have been learning and growing an understand to natural healing. My girlfriend bought me a native healing book with all these different natural healers. It is very interesting all the benefits herbal teas. I will be sure to share this site and keep checking back to watch it grow.
    Thank You for the article!

    1. Emily Post author

      Nice ANthony! So glad you got into native healing. Lots of benefits in plants and herbs. Everything that comes from Mother Earth basically πŸ™‚

  5. A. Marc

    Hi Emily
    Boy did I learn something today! Nice handcrafts and what a rich culture. Coming from France, the only meaning I knew of the word “metisse” was the mixed race coming from Black and White people. For example it would be safe to say in France that Barack Obama is metisse SMH
    So thank you Emily!

  6. Paul

    These are some really cool looking patterns. I love that they’re hand crafted and completely unique. I love how much passion goes into this.

    1. Emily Post author

      Hi Paul! Yes lots of history and passion in all that art and bead work. Each was truly unique. Cant find that anymore these days πŸ™‚

  7. Matthew

    That Metis beadwork is gorgeous! And I’m jealous that it’s warm where you are… The culture seemed very relaxed, appreciative, and connected with spirit, which is very refreshing to read of. Perhaps a gift is in the future for my significant other! πŸ™‚

    1. Emily Post author

      Absolutely Matthew, good gift ideas! And the Native culture, its foundation is to be connected to the Great Spirit. To be connected to all your relations, unseen and unseen.

  8. Claire

    Wow, such beautiful beadwork; intricate yet simple. I had never heard of Metis before, but I just love the personal touch – I’m a sucker for something handmade that comes with a story πŸ™‚
    Thank you for teaching me something new this evening!

  9. Ed

    Hi Emily,
    This post on Metis beadwork has some fantastic pictures. My grandfather owned a trading post in Wakefield Mass, years ago and my aunt and grandmother used to do all of the beadwork on the moccasins, jackets and stuff for the shop. I hope people can appreciate the time and effort it takes to make some of those items. They aren’t just functional pieces, but actually works of art. Thanks

  10. mike

    Hi Emily, love your website. I am Metis and my wife is status and today we do feel the warm sun of the west coast of B.C on our bodies, waters are calm and life is exploding around us. Thank you for sharing this beautiful site with us. Will keep coming back to see what is new, cheers Mike.

  11. Jackie

    Hi Allmyrel, Very interesting reading about the different cultural groups in your part of Canada you obviously have a lot of knowledge. Beautiful photographs and exquisite bead work I have recently been living in Singapore and the Paranakan Culture is also derived from a cultural mix of Malay and Chinese and they also created the most glorious bead work it is very fine and detailed. I find these sort of cultural parallels fascinating and so enjoyed your post. I got a bit lost on the paragraph …. Beginning ….Metis art is greatly influenced by both European and Native cultures. However, the Metis ……. I understood what you were saying but I thought perhaps it was a bit convoluted. Great topic. I am working on my iPhone and could not find a place to leave this comment on your web site. All the very best with your site. Very happy to write on your site when I have my lap top. Cheers Jackie

    1. Emily Post author

      thanks Jackie
      Living in Singapore must be very interesting! There are similarities and parallels between some eastern cultures and the native culture. Very different in a sense than the typical “western culture”.

  12. Lawrence Barkwell

    If you are going to post my written work and beadwork at least give me credit!

    Lawrence Barkwell
    Louis Riel Institute

    1. Lawrence Barkwell

      The tobacco bag and third octopus bag are my beadwork, The paragraph on meaning is something I wrote and these works appear in that article.
      Lawrence Barkwell

      1. Emily Post author

        Hi Lawrence
        I have added your name to the two pictures as it is your beadwork. I have also featured your books at the end. As for the writing, I do take my info from different sources and add my own spin and info to it. I have re-read the paragraph and I know some of the info is mine for sure, or info that was passed to me. If you give me a clear reference, I will look it up and include it in here.

        1. Lisa

          Emily, I recognized the writing on the four parts of the beadwork, the β€œx” shape and the octopus bag as Lawrence Barkwell’s writing. He spent a good part of his life researching and writing on MΓ©tis art and culture and is wisely respected for it.

          1. Emily Post author

            HI Lisa
            Am I talking to Lisa Shepherd? If so, what an honor! You are such a talented artist and I admire your work. I wrote this article quite some time ago and used different means of research to do so. I am sure I encountered Lawrence Barkwell’s writing and in hindsight, if I did, I should have given the source. That was an oversight on my part. As I always give credits to artists and authors when I have the information.

  13. shane

    So your saying that Metis people invented beading as opposed to First Nations peoples creating it? I don’t believe that…

    1. Emily Post author

      Hi Shane
      bead work indeed originally came from the Metis people who are known as the beaded flower people. At the time it started, the Metis were not a recognized nation, therefore, it was often passed as First nations art. But the Metis people taught the Cree and Ojibway people to bead.

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